There were smiles all around after the Calgary Flames’ 6-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday evening.
The biggest belonged to newcomer Tyler Toffoli, who couldn’t contain his grin as the Saddledome fans chanted his name.
“It was obviously pretty cool. But at the same time, a little embarrassing,” Toffoli joked after the game. His teammates were giving him a hard time about it. “Honestly, it was amazing but I hope they don’t do it again.”
Celebrations have been few and far between for the 29-year-old with the Montreal Canadiens this season. Over the last 24 hours following his trade to the Flames, Toffoli talked about being excited to play meaningful hockey again.
And he didn’t’ disappoint, putting the exclamation point on the Calgary Flames victory with his 10th goal of the year – his first as a Flame.
It was one of the pretty ones, too. The pass – a Super Bowl-worthy lob from Johnny Gaudreau that would have inspired Joe Burrow – was something most people in attendance have never seen. It landed in the perfect spot for Toffoli to scoop up behind both Blue Jackets defenders.
Without missing a step, their new weapon tracked and settled the puck, went forehand to backhand, skated across the crease on one leg and patiently beat goaltender Elvis Merzlikins for the Flames’ final goal halfway through the final frame.
“Honestly, I almost fell. I’ll take the goal,” Toffoli said. “Obviously Johnny made a really nice play. We’ll take it.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter wasn’t committing to much after the morning skate, knowing Toffoli travelled to Calgary late on Monday after playing four games in six nights. He wound up playing 12:18, finishing with a goal on four shots and a plus-one rating. Although he’s expected to part of both special teams units, Toffoli earned all his debut minutes at even strength.
“I said I’d manage his game and he’d manage his and he did that,” Sutter said post-game, avoiding the topic of emotional impact, but acknowledging the fans’ appreciation.
“They knew he was a good player. The real fans, they know the game. They don’t need something to be made of it on social media or whatever. They’re onto it; they get it.”
The victory was the Calgary Flames’ seventh consecutive win and seventh in a row at home. It put them into first place in the Pacific Division with two games still in hand over the Vegas Golden Knights.
It was far from a masterpiece. But there were plenty of good signs that this team is capable of continuing the winning streak against any competitor.
Dillon Dube got his first goal since January 6 – a shorthanded snapshot from the high slot.
Adam Ruzicka continued to emerge as a strong bottom-six centre with his fourth of the year and second goal in as many games.
And Calgary Flames backup goaltender Dan Vladar got his first win in his first start at the Saddledome. Yes, more than halfway through the season.
“Glad he got to win his first home game,” Sutter said succinctly when asked his thoughts on the home debut.
Vladar was shaky at times. But he made 18 saves for the win and was more confident by the final buzzer than he was at puck drop.
The team will need to rely on him during a busy March schedule, so getting this one in the books is big.
So is Toffoli making an immediate impact while running on fumes.
We’ll leave you with his final words on the night when asked what he’s going to do for an encore: