CALGARY — Before the Toronto Maple Leafs played their last game, Alex Galchenyuk was asked if he was anxious to score his first goal with the club.
“Sooner or later, it’s going to go in,” he said. “I just have to keep working hard.”
With his team struggling to generate scoring chances and down a goal to the Calgary Flames, Galchenyuk parked himself in front of the net and freed himself from defenseman Noah Hanifin’s grasp. He then buried a pass from John Tavares past David Rittich to tie the game 2-2 at 17:08 of the second period.
The goal sparked a string of three unanswered as the Leafs defeated the Flames 4-2 in the first game of back-to-back games on consecutive nights.
“It means a lot, it definitely felt good getting the first one,” Galchenyuk said. “Most importantly we got the win; It wasn’t our best, but we stuck with it found a way to win.”
The Leafs started well when they scored in the opening minute of the game.
Morgan Rielly, who moved into tenth all-time in games played by a Toronto defenseman with 555, beat Rittich with a wrister that went off the crossbar and in at 0:58 of the first period.
Ninety seconds later, Galchenyuk provided a glimpse of what was to come from the forward. Mark Giordano attempted a shot from the point, but Galchenyuk cut the angle by skating up to the Flames defenseman and blocking the shot. That set up a breakaway for Galchenuk, who had his chance stopped by Rittich.
It looked like it was going to be one of those nights for Toronto who had their legs early in the game. They had outshot the Flames 11-3 through the first 11 minutes, but they were flat for the remainder of the period and for much of the second.
The Flames got goals from Joakim Nordstrom and Andrew Mangiapane that gave the Flames a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission.
Michael Hutchinson made the start in goal for Toronto and couldn’t be faulted on either of the Calgary goals. Nordstrom tipped Girodano’s shot from the point. Mangiapane’s goal changed direction when Galchenyuk’s stick check changed the direction of the puck.
Outside of those two instances, Hutchinson, who has been a polarizing figure in Toronto, turned in arguably his best start of the season.
Sure, Hutchinson had a 31-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers on Mar. 1, but the team in front of him dominated the opponent.
On Sunday night, Hutchinson was Toronto’s best player.
“He made some really big saves for us when we weren’t helping him out,” Auston Matthews said. “He kept us in the game.”
Seconds after Rielly’s goal, Hutchinson stopped Calgary’s Mikael Backlund from scoring on a breakaway attempt.
On the Flames’ lone power play early in the second period, Hutchinson made four difficult saves in the span of 50 seconds that kept it at a one-goal game.
“We regrouped in the third (period) and that’s on the back of solid goaltending,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Hutchinson made 32 saves and picked up his 4th win this season, and first since Mar. 1.
“I just tried to have fun tonight and enjoy the game in its entirety,” Hutchinson said.
It’s a stark contrast from the goaltender who struggled in the backup role in 15 games last season with the Leafs. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 24, 2020, for defenseman Calle Rosen. The trade occurred just 16 days after Toronto acquired Jack Campbell from the Los Angeles Kings to serve as the team’s new backup.
Hutchinson rejoined the Leafs after he signed a two-year, two-way contract on Oct. 30. The deal pays him $725,000 per season at the NHL level.
“At times when Hutch was struggling last season, we didn’t play well in front of him,” Keefe said. “Us bringing him back in itself, I think, probably shows that we have confidence in him.”
Hutchinson’s performance on Sunday should help aid the team’s feeling about their goaltending depth beyond Frederik Andersen (lower-body) and Campbell in the event that neither are able to go in time for the playoffs.
Jack Campbell is slated to start in goal in the rematch between the clubs on Monday. But it’s not 100 percent certain that will happen.
“We’ll see how he gets through the morning skate tomorrow and make the decision there,” Keefe said. “But we’re hopeful that will be the case.”
Veini Vehvilainen dressed as the backup on Sunday.
Campbell skated on Sunday morning for just under 40 minutes and worked exclusively with goaltending coach Steve Briere. He appears to be ok during the drills.
Big night for Tavares and his line
John Tavares scored the game-winning goal in the third period after both himself and William Nylander were denied on a scoring chance. However, Tavares’ rebound went off the skate of Hanifin and into the net.
Hanifin was in close because of the speed to which Nylander and Tavares went to the net.
“I thought we played a quick game in the third (period),” Tavares said. “If you don’t have your best you gotta work to compete.”
Tavares finished with a goal and an assist. His line’s 76 percent expected goals rating was far better than any other Leafs line on Sunday.
For all the difficulty Tavares has had with putting up points at even strength, the hockey gods rewarded him with the go-ahead goal.
Auston Matthews capped Toronto’s scoring with his league-leading 25th goal of the season. It was nicely set up by Mitch Marner.
Toronto missed on their only power-play opportunity of the game and have now missed on their last 28 chances.