Flames edge Avalanche; rookie goalie gets first win
DENVER — David Rittich wasn’t nervous for his first NHL start. He didn’t play like he was either.
Instead, the rookie goaltender showed the poise of a veteran and helped the Calgary Flames end their road trip on a high note.
Rittich made 24 saves for his first NHL win, Micheal Ferland and Mikael Backlund scored goals 22 seconds apart in the second period, and the Flames beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 on Saturday night.
Backlund added an assist and Dougie Hamilton also scored for the Flames, who finished their six-game road trip 3-2-1.
“We finished off a pretty good road trip and now headed back home to begin a homestand,” defenseman Travis Hamonic said.
Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov scored for Colorado and Jonathan Bernier stopped 25 shots in his fourth game in seven days.
The Avalanche were playing their third game in four nights and it looked like it early. They managed just seven shots in the first period and took two penalties.
“We didn’t have our legs early. I thought we did a lot of standing around in the first period,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “We just weren’t committed and willing to play the right way tonight in order to get the job done.”
Rittich, who was recalled Friday from Stockton of the AHL, was thrown into action and responded with a solid performance. He looked sharp against a Colorado team that was 7-1-1 at home entering Saturday.
“I thought he played well, made some key saves when we needed them,” Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said. “Boy, when you see a guy that’s that excited and such a good guy, it’s certainly a nice feeling to play well in front of him and get him a win in the NHL. That’s a big thing.”
Rittich’s best save came on Colorado’s second power play when he gloved a shot by Alexander Kerfoot with 6:27 left in the second period. He made another big save on Carl Soderberg at 13:55 of the third period to keep it a two-goal game, but Zadorov made it 3-2 with a goal at 17:06 of the third.
Bernier came off for an extra skater with 1:25 left in the third.
The score was tied 1-1 as the second period was winding down when the Flames took control. Ferland broke the tie with his 10th goal of the season at 19:09 and Backlund made it 3-1 with his sixth of the season at 19:31. It was the 100th goal of his career.
“Getting one goal late is usually a momentum swinger but to get two it swings momentum even more to our side,” Backlund said.
Rantanen beat Rittich from the top of the left circle at 14:32 of the second to tie the score at 1. It was his seventh of the season.
It was just a blemish on a strong season debut for the rookie goaltender. Rittich got into one game for Calgary last season where he stopped 9 of 11 shots in 20 minutes in his brief NHL debut.
Saturday he showed he can succeed at this level.
“I feel good about the win. The guys played unbelievably,” Rittich said. “They blocked every single shot. It was good for me.”
Ferland nearly scored in the opening minutes, but his shot hit the crossbar. Hamilton did give the Flames the early lead when he scored his third goal on the power play at 17:23 of the first period to give Calgary the early lead.
“It was a tough game all around,” Rantanen said. “We usually have good starts, but they outskated us in the first and that set the tone for the whole game.”
NOTES: Flames RW Johnny Gaudreau has at least one point in 18 of his team’s 23 games. ... Colorado G Semyon Varlamov missed his fourth straight game because of illness, but he is expected to return for Wednesday’s game against Winnipeg. Varlamov took part in Saturday’s option morning skate and said he is feeling better. ... The Flames have won three straight at Pepsi Center dating to the 2015-16 season and four in a row overall against Colorado. ... The Avalanche had scored at least three goals in each of their first nine home games before being held to one Saturday.