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Flames goalie Rittich anxious to prove himself in playoff spotlight


This guy loves to wisecrack.

What will come out of his mouth next? Anybody’s guess, really.

Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich gabbed with reporters via video conference Wednesday and had just signed off — a salute-of-sorts, followed by a ‘Thanks, see ya!’ — before popping up in front of the monitor again for one last chirp.

“I’m muting you,” laughed one of the Flames’ communication staffers, stopping Rittich mid-who-knows-what.

But what about once the game starts? Will Big Save Dave be silenced then?

In an empty arena, with plenty of live microphones, will the ramblings of Rittich become a soundtrack of the Flames’ summer restart?

“You’re maybe going to hear me, maybe not,” Rittich teased. “It’s up to you how your ears are working.

“It’s going to be probably a lot of Czech/English words in the air there,” he added later with a grin. “Hopefully not swear words. I’m going to try to keep it low because the cameras are going to get everything.”

Before Rittich worries about being bleeped out on the broadcast, he has to win the spotlight first as Calgary’s go-to goalie.

The 27-year-old logged the bulk of the starts for the Flames this winter — and even scored a late invite to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game — but Cam Talbot was making quite a push for the top job just prior to the pandemic pause.

Undoubtedly, the biggest battle of Training Camp 2.0 at the Saddledome is between the two candidates to be between the pipes for the Aug. 1 opener against the Winnipeg Jets.

“Quite simply, it will be the best guy coming out of camp,” promised Flames interim coach Geoff Ward. “We made that clear at the beginning to the guys coming into camp, and that will be how we determine it. So intrasquad games when we get to them and the exhibition game will obviously play a big role … It’s just part of the philosophy — we are going to play the best 20 players that we have. I think we owe it to everybody here to do it that way, so ultimately that will be how the decision is made.”

Rittich certainly hopes that it plays out differently than it did in 2019.

After time-sharing with Mike Smith for most of the season, No. 33 was just a spectator for the Flames’ first-round flop against the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith was their top performer in that series, so there was no second-guessing the crease-call, but that didn’t make it any easier for Rittich to watch in a ball-cap. He still doesn’t have even a minute of playoff action on his NHL resume.

“Obviously, it was hard. Every single goalie wants to play, and it was the same to me,” Rittich recalled after Wednesday’s workout. “When I didn’t start one game, I was kind of sad. Not mad. Not rattled. Just sad I didn’t get the opportunity to start even one game. It’s probably the biggest opportunity for me right now — to be starter in playoffs and get some games, get some experience.

“And hopefully, hopefully, we’re are going to go a long way.”

Among the key ingredients for a deep playoff run, great goaltending is usually near the top of the list. It’s no coincidence the winning twine-minder is almost always in the conversation about Conn Smythe Trophy frontrunners.

What makes the Jets a frightening opponent in a best-of-five qualification series is the fact their backstop is currently the best in the biz. Connor Hellebuyck will certainly be among the hat-trick of Vezina Trophy finalists. There should be an inquiry if he doesn’t win it.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Rittich said. “Hellebuyck is a really good goalie and I just have to show I’m better or I can be better than him in this series and just win three games and keep rolling.”

He has to win the starting job first.

Rittich, who posted a 24-17-6 record, 2.97 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 48 regular-season appearances this past winter, could benefit from the lengthy lay-off. After returning home to the Czech Republic, he had plenty of time to mentally reset and to recover from a nagging elbow injury.

Now, it’s time to let his play do the talking.

“Every single goalie wants to start in playoffs,” Rittich said. “It’s up to coach who’s he going to pick, and it’s up to me and Talbs how we’re going to work hard and how we are going to be ready for playoffs. The last call will be with Wardo.”

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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