– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, N.J. — In trying to explain his awkward goal celebration following his second-period goal that continues a magical scoring season, Flames defenseman and captain Mark Giordano came up with a few possibilities on what his post-tally move was before saying that he was embarrassed by the final product.
Everything else about his game, as well as that of the Calgary Flames, has been anything but shameful.
Giordano’s backhand goal in the second period doubled Calgary’s lead and proved to be the game-winning goal as the Flames defeated the short-handed New Jersey Devils 2-1 at Prudential Center on Wednesday, extending Calgary’s winning streak to seven games.
The win also completed a perfect three-game sweep of an East Coast trip as the Flames conceded just one goal in wins in Ottawa, Long Island and now in Newark.
Giordano’s goal, his 14th this season, gives him 60 points on the year as he becomes just the fourth defenseman aged 35 or older to have a 60-point season in league history.
“We did the little things right and we sacrificed,” said Giordano. “It’s great to see. It’s great to get six points on this trip and move forward. We’re in a good spot.”
Calgary was in a good spot almost all game long against a Devils’ team playing without a number of regulars in the lineup due to injury. The Flames outshot New Jersey 15-5 in the first 20 minutes, and although neither team scored in the period, Calgary continued to pile on the pressure in the second period, eventually taking a 30-10 shot advantage after two periods.
All of the goals in the game were scored in the second, as Calgary opened the scoring on the power play at 1:07 of the period just as a 5-on-3 opportunity was ending. The goal came when a centering pass from Elias Lindholm went off the skate of New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen before sailing past an off-balance MacKenzie Blackwood in goal and into the net.
Giordano doubled the lead at 13:52, taking a cross-ice pass from Salem, N.J. native Johnny Gaudreau before skating in and beating Blackwood after a nifty forehand-to-backhand deke.
“We’ve got a high character group,” said Flames head coach Bill Peters. “They know how to play, they know how to play with a lead and they know how to get the job done going into the third. They know what has to happen.”
Just as the game was getting ready to turn into a laugher, and as the Flames were outshooting New Jersey 29-8 late in the second, the Devils scored against the run of play in one of the more unlikely scenarios. While shorthanded, Devils forward Kevin Rooney stripped Gaudreau of the puck as the latter was skating out of his defensive zone before unleashing a wrist shot that beat the glove of Flames goalkeeper David Rittich to cut New Jersey’s deficit in half at 16:47 of the second.
New Jersey, with nine players active tonight who played most of their seasons so far with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, equipped themselves much better in the third, putting 10 shots on goal and holding the Flames to just five in the final 20 minutes.
Rittich stopped all 10 shots in the period, securing his 22nd win in 36 starts this season.
“I really liked our team’s effort. We had a real strong push there in the third period, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way to be able to get the tying goal,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “When you look at thee opportunity the guys have gotten in tonight’s game and the competitive level we played with, I think there are things we can continue to build off.”
The game was delayed for about 10 minutes midway through the third period when Devils defenseman Mirco Mueller went head first into the boards behind the Devils’ net after being tangled up with Flames left wing Michael Frolik while chasing a loose puck. After lying face first on the ice, Mueller had to be stretchered off, though he did make a thumbs-up gesture to the fans as medical attendants escorted him off the ice.
“He’s got full range of motion and he’s conscious and he’s just at the hospital now getting evaluated now, but thank God he’s OK,” Hynes said after the game. “He’s fully conscious and all of his extremities are moving fine. Mentally, he was fine and he sat up before he left the arena for the hospital and [had] full awareness of what was going on.”