It’s funny to imagine, but it’s entirely possible that the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs could meet in the Stanley Cup Final. This Canadian dream isn’t unthinkable and that’s what made Monday’s encounter so captivating.
The Maple Leafs took the win by a final score of 6-2. On the surface, that’s brutal for the Flames.
But a deeper dive into Monday’s melee reveals more than meets the eye, like how Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen pretty much saved the day. Or how Calgary goalie David Rittich couldn’t buy a break.
It was a goaltending duel more than it was a showcase of offensive prowess.
Sure, Toronto’s Tyler Ennis picked up his first career hat trick in a game that featured many a blue-and-white fan in the Calgary throng. And sure, Zach Hyman had two goals while Mitch Marner had three points.
But there was Andersen, turning aside 35 of 37 shots and winning the test of the titans.
For his part, Rittich saved 26 of 32 and was hapless for large stretches. That caused the hometown crowd to turn on him, despite how darn good he’s been as of late. The same thing happened to Mike Smith and could reveal a bit of goaltending trouble for the Flames. Could.
If the two teams do meet in the enchanted Stanley Cup Final, it will come down to goaltending.
Simply put, Toronto is better.
The 29-year-old Maple Leafs netminder has a .924 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average. He’s got 32 wins in 48 starts.
“Freddie was awesome,” said Hyman after Monday’s contest. “I think the crowd was great, too. Tons of Leafs fans. We heard Freddie’s name get chanted, which was pretty cool. You don’t see that often in an away building so we travel really well.”
That has to sting for the Flames, who now look like a team with a goaltending problem. And, to be fair, there are questions. Rittich’s experience – or lack thereof – could be a factor in the playoffs. Smith’s wonky tendencies could similarly create trouble in extra innings, especially if the bad goals pile up. And honestly, Flames fans aren’t in the mood for another late-season collapse.
But is that reason to panic? Hardly.
Rittich and Smith have held their team above the fracas. Rittich has 22 wins in 34 starts, including a 2.66 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. And while Smith’s numbers are less than stellar (a dubious .895 save percentage), he can get the job done.
That hardly matters in light of Monday’s ruckus, however, and that’s what will stand out in the minds of Flames fans and Maple Leafs fans. For now.
If both teams do the implausible and actually do tangle for hockey’s ultimate prize? Remember Monday. And remember how “Freddie” got the job done and earned the chants in Calgary’s own barn.
(Photo credit: NHL)