LOS ANGELES – Two goals, an assist and a chokehold takedown few of his teammates will ever let him forget.
Johnny Gaudreau did it all Monday in L.A., and he didn’t waste much time doing it.
Starting his latest evening of heroics with a game-opening goal a mere ten seconds in, Gaudreau demonstrated once again why he’s in the Hart Trophy conversation.
Not just because he sits fourth in NHL scoring with 34 goals and 95 points.
But because of his leadership.
Opening a four-game road trip against a surging Kings team that had closed the gap to three points, Gaudreau’s gang desperately needed to turn their fortunes around.
And he was just the guy to do it, scoring his ninth game-winner of the season, while seemingly doing it all.
In on all three goals in a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Kings, Gaudreau also flashed some rarely seen muscle, by dragging down Sean Durzi in a net-front scrum that earned him a penalty.
“I’m pretty strong, I think,” laughed the 165-pound winger, who went to aid Matthew Tkachuk by wrapping his arm around the neck of the Kings defender who immediately fell to the ice. “When the guy’s not looking I’m pretty strong. I think he fell backwards a little bit, softly. I don’t think he knew I was coming from behind. I felt like there were two guys on Chucky so I tried to help him out a bit.
“We took too many penalties, starting with myself on a bonehead play. But our penalty kill did a great job and Marky did a great job. Big win for us to start the road trip off this way.”
In a third period in which Matthew Tkachuk took three minors, the Flames penalty-kill unit indeed stepped up with a series of late blocks by Erik Gudbranson and Chris Tanev that complimented a 27-save effort by Jacob Markstrom.
The only kill of the six the Flames faced that they couldn’t fend off came late in the first period on a 5-on-3 that was set up by Gaudreau’s penalty, putting the hosts up 2-1.
Gaudreau atoned for it in the second period when he set up shop behind the Kings net, faking one way before finding Elias Lindholm in the high slot for a one-timer the Swede buried.
Minutes earlier, from the same spot Tkachuk attempted The Michigan, something Gaudreau insisted he never contemplated.
“No, I can’t do that,” he smiled. “I let Chucky… I’m sure he can do it. I can’t. I try to keep it simple and make a play.”
Sixty-five seconds later Gaudreau potted the winner by taking a Ryan Carpenter pass in the slot and making a quick move to the backhand for a sweet roof-job.
“Johnny was on fire tonight,” said Darryl Sutter of the game’s undisputed star. “He was awesome. He’s been really good lately, and hopefully that’ll get the line going again.”
Gaudreau’s throwdown certainly got Gudbranson going.
“I had a few thoughts cross my mind,” said the hulking defender, whose penalty-killing unit also deserved plenty of props. “I was impressed, No. 1. I didn’t think he’d do it. The rest I’ll keep to myself.”
Not surprisingly, Sutter was similarly dazzled.
“Just think, if that had been a fight, he could have had a Gordie Howe Hat-Trick tonight,” chuckled the coach, whose club has a day off in sunny Los Angeles before reconvening in Anaheim Wednesday.
“That’s what I was mad at the refs for. I said, ‘How could Johnny Gaudreau get a roughing penalty when there’s like 10 guys? There’s gotta be somebody else to get a penalty.’ The referee said, ‘Don’t point at me.’ I said, ‘I’m not pointing at you, I was pointing at where the scrum was.’ ”
Gaudreau’s opener was three seconds off the franchise record held by Mel Bridgeman, who scored seven seconds in on Oct. 14, 1982. No Flame has scored a goal as quickly as Gaudreau’s since 1987.
“I think everyone wants to be that guy on our team,” he said when asked about the pride of leading his team at a time it needed him most.
“Obviously tonight it was me. Lindy had a big goal too, and we’ve had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys throughout the year here this year. You can’t really stick it on one guy.”
On Monday you sure could.