CALGARY – Matthew Tkachuk is not sure how this happened, but the brotherly love he and David Rittich have been demonstrating since the trip to Philadelphia is catching the eye.
At the end of the last three Calgary Flames victories, Tkachuk drew all his teammates with a jubilant, individual embrace with Rittich, whom both find difficult to describe.
"I do not know how it started, but a little hug turned into a big hug, it turned into a jump and hug and now it's turned into a big jump and hug – it's like continuing, we created something," said Tkachuk. On Wednesday morning, laughing when an employee suggested he did not want to see how much more his enthusiasm could get them.
"This may be the last stage of this."
Hours later, the Tkachittich's jump / hug was run again after "Big Save Dave" stole one of them for the Flames.
They kept it civilized, with Tkachuk jumping several times before jumping into Rittich as the horn sounded and teammates greeted the fans.
This time around, the whole team probably wanted to jump in the arms of the 26-year-old goalscorer who played such an important part in Flames's turnaround season as anyone.
Tonight, the request was to make 35 defenses against a Colorado team led by the best hockey line.
He made 32 of them in a 5-3 victory that the Flames did not deserve.
A Michael Frolik heel goal ended the gap in a game that saw the flames shoot just 15 shots on one still in trouble, Semyon Varlamov.
Thus, the Flames' third consecutive victory with Rittich after the injury ended with man's embraces.
"I did it because he saved my ass," Rittich laughed when asked how the animated hug came after a late return orchestrated by Tkachuk in Philly.
This time Rittich was returning the favor, moving his record to a remarkable 16-4-3.
Going to the first of five home dates, the focus was on the first two lines of the NHL.
Including Tkachuck, the game included seven of the 17 best NHL scorers. Only two NHL games, dating back to 1992, had so many top 20 snipers.
The late night plot was how much better the trio of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon were in a game that seemed to be taking over in the second period.
After a period, they were the only attackers on the Avs to score goal kicks.
By the end of the second, only two other Colorado attackers had contributed to the shooting count, as the main weapons were on the verge of breaking an open 2-2 game with relentless pressure. The big three finished with 23 totals, including 12 per Landeskog.
If it had not been for Rittich, things could have gotten out of hand.
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Unfortunately, Elias Lindholm's Flames goal seven minutes from time was the whole game.
Rittich helped them to continue from there.
"I think they were the fastest team from the first period to the end, and the shots would support that," Bill Peters said of an opportunist group that stepped out of a four-game roadie in which they won three times.
"Their pace over schedule has given us problems at times. We have found a way to solve this. That was a timely goal for Lindy, for sure. This is a dangerous group.
Johnny Gaudreau's five-game winning streak ended, but his six-game spree continued with two assists, giving him 15 points in that period.
Five to five, his line up with Sean Monahan and Lindholm was largely overshadowed by Avalanche Aces, who ended the night dealing with a verbal collapse in the bank by MacKinnon that seemed to be directed at coach Jared Bednar. Colorado has a win in its last nine.
"It was not our game for sure, but good teams have found a way to win and I think we've improved over the course of the game – our third period was our best period and that's what you have to do this year," said Mark Jankowski, who led a penalty that disrupted the Avalanche's four advantages.
"(Rittich) has been a star in many games this year – he held us when we should not be there and held the door hard to get a couple."
Jankowski and Mikael Backlund also scored goals in the first period to open the game.
Frolik's lucky goal in the middle of the third period put the Flames 4-2 and kept the fans ahead in the last 90 seconds when the first two lines met.
A missed opportunity in the net by the Flames led to a Rantanen goal that forced Tkachuk to score an empty goal in the last 10 seconds.
Cue the hug.