“You wanna say something Dubes? I’m talking a lot,” chuckled the veteran, whose third line had just spearheaded the Flames 4-0 elimination win over the Jets.
The 22-year-old Dube just continued beaming, satisfied he had done all his talking on the ice where he’d just played one of the games of his life.
All told the 22-year-old second-round pick had seven shots, five high danger scoring chances and his first NHL playoff goal three minutes in, which stood as the winner in a game where his line spent the rest of the night stifling the Winnipeg Jets.
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Lucic opened the evening with a fight two seconds in, and followed it with an assist, several big hits and a few good scoring chances.
Playing clean up on the line was Sam Bennett whose latest playoff masterpiece included eight hits and the game’s biggest gut-punch, scoring with less than a second left in the first period.
In short, he was a beast.
Not bad leadership, productivity and moxy from the team’s third line, which earned top billing when needed most.
“Me and Dubes have played in big games in different situations – I think I saw a replay of Dubes in the world juniors gold medal game scoring a big goal, so he’s no stranger to scoring big goals in big games,” said Lucic, a Stanley Cup winner who watched Dube captain Team Canada to junior gold in 2018.
“All three of us played well, and we’ve got to keep that up to have success as a line and as a team.”
Flames captain Mark Giordano revealed for the first time after the game that the Flames felt they had been pushed around by Colorado a year earlier and vowed they’d learned from the experience. He knows they’ll have to keep it up against one of the four teams they’ll face as early as Tuesday, as the Avs, Stars, Blues and Golden Knights are all big, physical teams.
And that means Calgary’s third line will be called upon to step up again, and again.
“We were physical and Sam Bennett and Milan Lucic really led us in that department,” said Ward, well aware Bennett’s calling card has been his physicality and finish in the playoffs.
“They know what this time of year represents. I thought Sam was fantastic. I thought the whole line was great. Sam didn’t let off on any hits. He finished checks and goes to hard areas. He’s really settled into that line and they’ve developed great chemistry. I think the three of them are formidable when they get their game going.”
The line only came to be in training camp 2.0, when Bennett filled in for injured Derek Ryan for a pair of intra-squad games. He shone, prompting the coach to keep Bennett with the pair who had previously developed great chemistry with Ryan.
It allows Ryan to focus on penalty killing duties as a fourth liner, and gives the third unit added wallop with Bennett’s bruising style that seems to elevate every post season.
Dube’s progression all season long was significant, but he almost didn’t get a chance to be part of these playoffs.
The former Kelowna Rockets star missed the first week of the Return to Play camp for undisclosed reasons and was told by the coaching staff he’d be watched closely to see if he could get up to speed in time to join the team for the playoffs. The threat of AHLers snagging his spot, Ward suggested, was real.
In his first scrimmage with the team he was arguably the best player on the ice, scoring twice and adding a helper with Lucic and Bennett by his side.
The coach’s concerns disappeared immediately, and because of it the line did well to make Winnipeg disappear in four.
Although it merely earned the team entry to the first round of the playoffs, beating a tough team like Winnipeg is a huge hump for the Flames to get over after years of speculation this team wasn’t built for playoff hockey.
It will likely be days before the status of Johnny Gaudreau is revealed following his departure from Game 4 with four minutes remaining. His collision along the boards with Nikolaj Ehlers left the Flames winger grasping his right hand/arm/wrist in obvious pain … Jets coach Paul Maurice revealed after the game that Mark Scheifele has left the series in Game 1 with a “crushed” Achilles following the hit from Matthew Tkachuk. Patrik Laine was also unavailable to return to the series after a hand injury that prevented him from being able to hold his stick.