BC-HKN--Blue Jackets-Flames,1st Ld-Writethru
CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — In the first two periods, the Columbus Blue Jackets hit three goal posts.
It was that kind of night.
Johnny Gaudreau scored his team-leading 35th goal and Michael Frolik added a goal and an assist as the Calgary Flames beat Columbus 4-2 on Tuesday.
“We’re finding ways to not score, I guess. It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to keep going and have the faith that it’s going to break,” Blue Jackets forward Matt Duchene said. “Today we lost some ground, but we’re still in a (playoff) spot.”
David Rittich made 31 saves to win his fourth start in a row. Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Tkachuk also scored for the Flames, and Austin Czarnik had two assists.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and defenseman Zach Werenski scored for Columbus. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 27 shots.
“They had a push, for sure. They’re a desperate team. A really big, strong team that plays well,” Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. “Their defensemen get in the rush, so it was an important two points for us tonight and I thought we dug deep.”
The Flames were the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot Sunday.
With nine games remaining in the regular season, their objective is staying atop the Pacific Division ahead of San Jose. Calgary opened a three-point lead over the idle Sharks, who clinched a playoff berth Tuesday when the Minnesota Wild lost to Colorado.
“It’s nine games to the end, we’ve got three points up, so every single point is important,” Rittich said. “We want to finish first.”
Columbus is clinging to the second Eastern Conference wild-card slot by one point after Montreal’s 3-1 victory in Philadelphia.
Blue Jackets shooters hit the post three times in the first 40 minutes, prompting Rittich to give his posts a kiss during the game.
“Three goal posts,” Duchene lamented. “We’re playing good hockey. Just not getting the offense when we need it.”
Mangiapane scored late in the first period and Frolik 35 seconds into the second to give the Flames an early 3-1 cushion.
Bjorkstrand’s power-play goal at 5:28 of the third pulled the Blue Jackets within a goal. His wrist shot from the faceoff circle rolled up and over Rittich’s left shoulder.
Rittich, however, stymied a second man-advantage midway through the period after Calgary was called for delay of game.
“There was a few I thought he made look easy that were difficult saves,” Giordano said. “That was huge for us.”
Flames defenseman Noah Hanifin blocked a shot with the back of his head midway through the second period. He left the game, but returned for the third.
Rittich certainly got help from the goal posts and his teammates, but he also didn’t give up rebounds to Columbus for follow-up chances.
“There wasn’t much laying around,” Calgary coach Bill Peters said. “I thought he was real tidy.”
Frolik scored Calgary’s third goal on a neutral-zone pass from defenseman T.J. Brodie. Frolik eluded Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones to beat Bobrovsky.
Calgary’s Garnet Hathaway and Blue Jackets defenseman Adam McQuaid collided behind the play a minute later and traded punches.
Lukas Sedlak and Ryan Dzingel both shot the puck off Rittich’s left post for the Blue Jackets during the last three minutes of the first period.
But Calgary led 2-1 on Mangiapane’s goal with the clock ticking down. He had half an open net to score with a backhand when Bobrovsky lost track of Mark Jankowski’s pass through traffic.
Gaudreau pulled the Flames even at 12:44. From the behind the goal line, Derek Ryan threw the puck to Gaudreau in the high slot for the winger to score.
Werenski made the most of a neutral-zone turnover by Calgary for the game’s first goal. The defenseman hustled the puck into the offensive zone and beat Rittich with a wrist shot at 10:25.
NOTES: Flames center Sean Monahan (illness) and winger Sam Bennett (upper body) were scratched for a second straight game. ... Giordano tied Robyn Regehr for the second-most games played for Calgary (826). ... With an assist, Giordano has five in his past five games.
Blue Jackets: Visit the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night.
Flames: Host the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.