CALGARY — Rookie Johnny Gaudreau has been the talk of the town in Calgary lately, but on Monday night veteran Jiri Hudler showed that he is no slouch either when it comes to producing offence.
Hudler had a pair of beautiful set-ups as the Flames scored twice in the first period and then hung on for a 2-1 victory over Los Angeles- Calgary’s third straight victory and second against the Kings in a week.
“It’s huge. They’re in our conference and they’re Stanley Cup champs,” said Hudler. “They’ve got a big, physical team. The last game in their building was a comeback and we stuck with it tonight. It’s great points for us.”
Curtis Glencross and Markus Granlund had the goals for Calgary (20-15-3), which has won three straight games since a seven-game losing skid.
Tyler Toffoli scored for Los Angeles (18-12-7), which kicked off a three-game road trip through Western Canada that continues Tuesday night in Edmonton.
“His hockey sense is unbelievable,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said about Hudler. “He basically set up Granny and Glenny to open nets. That’s the hockey sense, that’s the vision, that he has. He’s a great passer.”
Calgary took a 1-0 lead at 12:13 of the first period on the eighth goal of the season for Glencross.
Carrying the puck with speed into the Kings end, Hudler curled sharply towards the sideboards, drawing lone defenceman Jake Muzzin towards him. With the middle of the ice opened up, he slid a perfect pass to Glencross racing in all alone and he wristed a shot into the top corner on Jonathan Quick.
“There was a lot of open ice and I was thinking about going for a change but seeing Jiri going in, I just bolted up the ice and it worked out,” said Glencross, who has eight goals on the year. “Haven’t gotten too many of those this year where you’re coming down the slot and you have that opportunity. Hopefully they keep on coming.”
The Flames made it 2-0 just over a minute later on another pretty goal.
Skating down the wing, Gaudreau made a nice play to evade defenceman Matt Greene at the Los Angeles blue-line, then drew the Kings other defenceman Alec Martinez to the ice before saucering a pass across to Hudler. The instant the puck landed on Hudler’s stick, he sent a touch pass back into the slot where he buried his fifth goal with Quick fooled and caught out of position.
“Great play by Johnny and Huds and I had an empty net. That was an easy goal for me,” said Granlund. “We think the same way so it’s fun to play with those guys.”
Hudler’s two assists gives him 36 points on the season (13 goals, 23 assists). He moves ahead of Mark Giordano into the team scoring lead.
With the win, the Flames pull even with Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver in the Pacific Division. However, all three teams hold games in hand.
“We really didn’t start pushing until the latter half of the second, and the third period we dominated,” said Kings defenceman Drew Doughty. “The reason why we lost was we had two quick lapses in the first period and they scored on them and we had to battle back from there on out.”
Trailing 2-0, the Kings got a big goal in the final minute of the second period. Toffoli scored on a breakaway after being sent in by Dustin Brown.
Toffoli had another great chance from the side of the net with less than 10 seconds to go in the second but was robbed by Hiller, who jabbed out his pad to deny the Kings leading scorer.
“I tried to get it upstairs, but it was kind of rolling,” said Toffoli. “If I put that in there its a totally different ending to the game.”
Hartley agreed that was a key moment in the game.
“That definitely would have put us on our heels and probably would have caused lots of damage. We retreated back with a one-goal lead and I thought in the third, we skated better,” said Hartley.
Jonas Hiller was at his best in the third and he had to be as the Kings pressed for the tying goal.
The pressure intensified in the late going and just before the buzzer, Hiller robbed Dwight King from 10 feet out.
“He was the difference in tonight’s game. He came up with some huge saves at the right time, and you need this, especially when you’re playing the defending Stanley Cup champs,” said Hartley. “We asked the boys this morning, we said, ‘We can’t afford any passengers. We got a great game from everyone and our best player was our goalie.”