Via Flames.com- Written by Ryan Dittrick
The lore of Madison Square Garden is unlike any other.
Heroes are made there.
As a first-time visitor one year ago, David Rittich was a wide-eyed rookie, his nose firmly pressed against the passenger windows of the team bus cruising the touristy roads of midtown Manhattan.
Now, entering Sunday’s contest a veteran of the Broadway experience – but this time in the starter’s net – he wanted to make his mark.
And make it he did.
Wire to wire, Rittich was the difference, posting a career-high 44 saves – including 19 in the third period – to lead the Flames to a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers.
“He’s worked hard, he’s got a great attitude and he’s an unbelievable teammate,” said head coach Bill Peters. “Without him tonight, it’s a different story.
“That was a real big two points and it’s on his back.”
With names like Messier, Graves and Richter adorning the rafters in the shadow of the Empire State Building, Rittich is now part of the fraternity of those with great achievements in ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena.’
“It’s better for a goalie to get 30 or 40 shots instead of 15 all game,” he said.
“I felt great.
“It’s why I’m in the net, to make the saves. I don’t really care how many chances they had, but we know we have to be a little better in the third. But we got the win, and that’s more important right now.”
Thanks in large part to their ever-so-sharp netminder, the Flames took a 1-0 lead with 2:59 to play in the first period. With a pair of Blueshirts hounding him the whole way, Sean Monahan showed excellent brute along the boards, intercepting a pass and dishing off to Gaudreau in the slot. Slightly off balance, No. 13 collected the feed, spun off a check and maintained control before spinning a backhand off the far post and in.
With the Rangers firing 12 first-period shots, getting that ever-important first goal was even more critical on this night.
In the opening five minutes, Pavel Buchnevich led a 2-on-1 with Calgary native Brett Howden, but the Rittich came up with a beautiful stop, challenging Howden and smothering the shot from just inside the right circle.
He came up with another strong stop late in the period as Jimmy Vesey stole the puck and boogied his way in alone, but was emphatically denied.
“He performed really well tonight,” Gaudreau said. “I was happy to see it. He doesn’t get as many games as he probably would like, but when he gets in there, he steps up.”
The Flames doubled their lead at 12:21 of the second, as Hathaway drove the net, shrugged off a check and tapped home a wonderful feed from Mark Jankowski to score his first of the year.
“That gave us a little bit of momentum, but the fact we started to skate a little bit more in the second period than we had earlier in the game helped us,” Peters said.
“I thought Janko was real good. He’s a big man, he showed real good skill on Hathaway’s goal. … That line gave us real good shifts.”
Gaudreau struck for his second of the night – and point No. 300 – just 2:34 later.
Backing up at the right circle, he took a Mark Giordano feed, faked Brady Skjei out of his boots, took one stride back to the middle and rifled a shot just under the bar to put the visitors up by three.
“It’s a cool accomplishment,” Gaudreau said of the milestone. “I’m excited the team won, obviously, but it makes it that much better with a team win.”
With Chris Kreider providing the screen, the right-shooting Mika Zibanejad got the Rangers on the board with a powerplay goal at 6:41, picking the short-side corner with a terrific shot off the left circle.
With the Rangers continuing to press, Hathaway rounded out the scoring with an unassisted marker at 18:07 – a byproduct of a hard hit by Rasmus Andersson on Mats Zuccarello in the neutral zone, springing the winger on a breakaway.
“It got a little loose in the third, but that’s when Ritter comes in and plays lights out,” Hathaway.
“It’s crazy. To have a guy like that you can rely on to come in and play every three or four games and come in and play that well, it’s a big for this team.”