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Flames third line rolling, scoring and hitting this NHL post-season

There’s a reason why the Calgary Flames’ third line continues to earn all of the headlines, garner all of the praise and appear on the team’s daily Zoom calls with the media.

Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube have been dominant, no question about it. They’ve played with physicality, pace, and that playoff scoring touch that is so crucial at this time of the year.

“Big, strong, physical, fast,” said Lucic on Wednesday when asked of their line’s identity during the 2020 post-season which sees the Flames ahead 1-0 in a best-of-seven first-round series against the Dallas Stars. “l think since Day 1 of camp, we’ve had a lot of fun since we’ve been back. We’re just embracing our role and we’re trying to do whatever we can to help this team win.

“We found that chemistry right off the start.”

It was evident when the Flames hit the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome a month ago, following a four-month pause on the 2019-20 National Hockey League campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the absence of Derek Ryan — who had been with Dube and Lucic through much of the latter half of the regular season — Flames head coach Geoff Ward inserted Bennett.

Through five games of the post-season, they’ve continued that chemistry. Ward has deployed Lucic off the face-offs (which resulted in an 11-of-16 success rate in Tuesday’s 3-2 Game 1 win over the Dallas Stars).

Dube has progressed on a game-by-game basis, currently pacing the team with 15 shots in five games — and two of those counted, of course, in Tuesday’s clash. All told, the 22-year-old has three goals and an assist through the post-season.

Then, there’s Bennett. A known playoff performer, the Flames’ fourth overall selection of the 2014 NHL draft was tied with Columbus captain Nick Foligno with a league-leading 27 hits heading into Wednesday’s action.

“It’s awesome,” said Bennett of the trio’s recent success. “This is where we want to be. I think I can speak for Looch and Doobs and myself — we all want to be difference-makers. We want to have a big impact on the game and on every shift. Every game we’ve started to get better and better and I still think we have more to give.

“I’m having a lot of fun playing with them right now and we’re going to continue playing our game.”

Ward has also been starting the third line at the beginning of games, periods and tapping them on the backs for many offensive zone face-offs. That’s typically been reserved for the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm.

It’s been effective, at least in four games against the Winnipeg Jets and one first-round match against the Stars.

“They’ve shown a real ability to make sure we win the draw, we get it deep, and we go to work,” Ward said following Tuesday’s game. “I think that’s an important thing for us early in a hockey game, just to establish some zone time in the other team’s end and get some early shots. They’re heavy guys and they’re hard to play against because they play heavy.

“Dillon, obviously, has great speed so he’s able to complement the heaviness of the other two very well with some of the things he’s done. For us, it’s not that we’re not afraid to start other lines. We certainly can. But they’ve certainly shown the ability to get us into the offensive zone early and that’s often why we go with them.”

With Lucic taking the draws lately, something he got used to with the Boston Bruins on the team’s powerplay with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, it’s forced them to continue to plan and communicate as a line.

Simple. But it works.

“We have a plan for every draw and every time we go out on the ice,” Bennett said. “Looch has been unbelievable on the face-offs right now so I’m sure he’ll continue to take those and win those. I think our whole line does a really good job of sorting it out and helping each other out in certain situations.”

There is a singular focus among the three of them — trying to keep this thing going as long as possible.

“We’re just having fun and playing the right way and competing,” Lucic said. “There is nothing better than competing for a Stanley Cup and that’s what’s driven us more than anything.”

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