Calgary centre Markus Granlund made the most of his opportunity after the benching of three of his teammates.
Granlund scored his first goal in 21 games and added an assist to lead the Flames to a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
A healthy scratch the past three games, the 22-year-old Finn got back into the line-up only because coach Bob Hartley sat out all-star Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan — the Flames top two scorers — along with veteran Lance Bouma for disciplinary reasons.
“We established team rules at the start of the season. We’re a very proud hockey club. We have built what we believe to be a very strong culture that goes for everyone,” said Hartley.
“It was tough because you can’t get three better young men. They’re proud of representing this community. They’re easy to coach and everything but when you make a mistake, we have to be accountable and we have to be fair to everyone.”
It was the first multi-point game of the season for Granlund.
“It felt good. I think two weeks ago I had some good chances to score but I couldn’t score. Now it feels good,” said Granlund, whose goal on a short-handed breakaway opened the scoring.
Mikael Backlund, Michael Ferland and Dougie Hamilton also scored for Calgary (24-25-3), which won consecutive games for the first time in a month.
The Flames are seven points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference. They are eight points back of Anaheim, which occupies third place in the Pacific Division.
Peter Holland, Josh Leivo, with his first of the season, and Jake Gardiner scored for Toronto (19-24-9). The Leafs have dropped the first two of a five-game road trip, which continues Thursday in Edmonton.
The Leafs were also without several key players, the most notable being captain Dion Phaneuf, who was involved in a nine-player trade with the Ottawa Senators earlier in the day.
“It was pretty emotional for a lot of the guys. (Phaneuf) was one of our really good friends and obviously our leader on our team,” said Gardiner. “Obviously it was tough all day long and we just tried to refocus for the game. I thought we competed well but just didn’t start the way we wanted to.”
Toronton was also missing recently injured Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and Shawn Matthias. James van Riemsdyk (foot) was already out.
“We gave up a short-handed goal that we shouldn’t have. I thought we gave them two gifts, but I thought we did a lot of good things. In the end we worked hard and had the puck a lot, but didn’t score enough to win,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
Ahead 2-1 after the opening 20 minutes, Calgary surged in front by three on goals by Ferland and Hamilton.
Leivo got one back late in the second and Gardiner’s goal at 8:37 set up a furious finish. However, despite the encouragement of the many pockets of boisterous Toronto supporters in the sell-out crowd of 19,289, the Leafs could not complete the comeback.
A hot topic post-game was Mark Giordano’s hard open-ice hit on Nazem Kadri in the first period. Kadri was furious as he left the ice and replays appeared to show him making a throat-slashing gesture towards the Flames captain after he returned to the bench.
“I heard about the reaction but I didn’t see it so I can’t comment on this but it was a good, old time hit. Very simple. We should teach kids to hit like this,” said Hartley.
The Leafs centre said he let his emotions get the best of him after being flattened in the Calgary zone.
“It’s not something that I even remember really doing to be honest. I was kind of in and out a little bit after that hit, just furious. It was an emotional reaction and that’s about it.”