Tkachuk delivers knockout blow to Wild in fight-filled matinee
Flames forward's game-winning goal allows team to pad lead atop Pacific Division
Once the rough stuff was out of the way, the Calgary Flames settled in and clamped down on the Minnesota Wild.
The surprise leaders of the Pacific Division, the Flames have proven this season to be feisty and flexible.
Matthew Tkachuk scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period, backup goalie David Rittich made 34 saves, and the Flames hung on to beat the Wild 2-1 on Saturday.
"It is a good feeling when you go into a game knowing that if you play your way, you can win a game 9-6 and 2-1," Tkachuk said.
Mark Giordano scored short-handed in the first period for the Pacific Division-leading Flames, who are 11-2-1 in their last 14 games, with 10 victories in regulation. During this stretch, they've won 7-2, 6-3, 6-1, 9-6 and 6-5. They've also recently earned 3-2, 2-0 and now 2-1 decisions.
"If we need goals we can get them, but more nights than not we want to play tight checking defensively and create our offence that way," Giordano said. "We know we can do it."
Watch highlights from Calgary's win in Minnesota:
Jordan Greenway's second-period goal was all the Wild were able to muster after winning their previous two games against Montreal and Florida by a combined 12-2 margin. They went on a power play with 2:36 left and pulled goalie Devan Dubnyk a few seconds later, but they failed to use the two-man advantage to forge a tie.
With 11:15 remaining, after a turnover by Joel Eriksson Ek set up a rush for the Flames and James Neal's pass hit a skate and slid backward, Tkachuk snapped the puck through traffic and past Dubnyk's stick for the lead. Tkachuk is third with 14 goals this season for the Flames, who lead the NHL with 50 third-period goals and a plus-26 differential in the final frame.
"They've got a great team over there. Very fast, quick in transition, high skill," Greenway said. "So it's not an easy job."
Rittich filled for Mike Smith, who was sidelined by an undisclosed injury.
"We're fortunate to have two guys we can call upon," coach Bill Peters said.
Nine days after the Flames beat the Wild 2-0 in a tension-filled game in Calgary, both sides brought their grudges to the ice along with their sticks and skates. Forty seconds after the opening faceoff, Tkachuk fought Minnesota's Matt Dumba, who levelled Flames centre Mikael Backlund with an open-ice check in the final minute of the matchup on Dec. 6, when Dumba was retaliating for a knee-on-knee hit Wild captain Mikko Koivu took from Giordano earlier in that game.
"It's good when you see guys standing up for one another, standing up for themselves," Dubnyk said. "We don't have a bunch of fighters in here, but we have guys that can take care of themselves."
Giordano served a two-game suspension. Flames forward Ryan Lomberg was banned for one game for going after Dumba, which also triggered an automatic $10,000 US fine for Peters. Koivu (lower body) and Backlund (upper body) each missed their fourth straight game.
Dumba, who leads NHL defencemen with 12 goals, didn't play in the last two periods. Coach Bruce Boudreau had no update afterward on his condition. After Dumba's power-play shot was blocked, the Flames went the other way for a 2-on-1 rush that set up the goal by Giordano .
Shortly before the first intermission, Wild forward J.T. Brown fought with Flames defenceman T.J. Brodie. A little later, Wild defenceman Ryan Suter even dropped his gloves for a scuffle with Flames forward Sam Bennett. That was Suter's first fight, according to hockeyfights.com , since 2009.
The Wild have let their opponent score first in 22 of 32 games this season. They climbed right back in this one after killing a 5-on-3 power play, when Greenway pivoted from the top of the right circle and sniped the puck past Rittich 3:30 into the second period.
"It was just a pretty tight-checking game all the way through, after things settled down," Wild left wing Zach Parise said. "We had a couple good looks and a couple odd-man rushes. We just couldn't get that second one."