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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 29, 2020
EDMONTON — Both of these young bucks started their playoff beards a while in advance.
Their full-grown facial hair isn’t the only proof they were ready for the post-season spotlight.
Speedy forward Dillon Dube, the only rookie in the Calgary Flames’ lineup, potted a pair of goals Tuesday.
And then Rasmus Andersson, who ranks as the least experienced lad on the their blue-line brigade, jumped into the rush and roofed a shot for the winner as the Flames scratched out a 3-2 victory and claimed an early 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven bubble showdown, an NHL Western Conference quarterfinal, against the Dallas Stars.
In Game 1 against the guys in green, Calgary’s greenest guys made the difference.
“I don’t think the size of the stage intimidates them at all — they actually look forward to it,” said Flames head coach Geoff Ward of Dube and Andersson. “Because they are gaining confidence and experience on a game-by-game basis, they’re feeding off it and using it to motivate themselves in the right way. We’re seeing right now that they are creating some awfully big moments for us in hockey games.
“The one thing about youth is they never cheat you on effort. Both those guys are playing extremely hard for us. And because they are, they’re getting some room and some time to make plays. As a result, they both had an impact on the hockey game.”
They sure did.
Dube just turned 22 last month. But if you turned on your flat-screen Tuesday, especially in the opening frame, you’d never guess that he started this season in the minors.
The kid, born in Golden, B.C., and now the pride of Cochrane, picked a pretty good time for his first multi-goal game at the NHL level.
Andersson is in his second full season in the bigs, but the 23-year-old Swede plays with the poise and swagger of an established veteran.
Tuesday’s game-winning tally will only boost his confidence, but it’s perhaps more telling that when captain Mark Giordano was whistled for delay-of-game after lifting a puck over the glass with 49.3 seconds remaining in regulation, Andersson was tapped to take his spot on the penalty-kill. That shows how much the bosses trust him.
With their goalie pulled for an extra attacker, the Stars managed just one shot during that six-on-four scenario. Flames netminder Cam Talbot squared up to stop Joe Pavelski, his last of 24 saves in a winning effort.
Game 2 is set for Thursday at 8:30 p.m. MT (Sportsnet West, Sportsnet 960 The Fan) at an empty Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“There’s an awful lot of hockey left,” Ward reminded after Game 1. “The biggest thing for us is I think we gained some confidence tonight. I think we learned some things as a team that we can certainly apply through the series. So for us, it was a good first game. But now we have to park it and get ready for Games 2 and 3 and 4, because they’re going to come fast.”
The Flames, fresh off their qualification series against the Winnipeg Jets, came out fast and physical Tuesday as they officially opened the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Dube scored his first of the afternoon on the man-advantage. Mikael Backlund hauled the puck into the offensive zone a slid a backhand pass over to Milan Lucic, who didn’t hesitate for a second before feeding No. 29 for a one-timer from the top of the circle.
Anton Khudobin, starting in place of three-time Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, didn’t have a hope of stopping that blast. (Bishop was backing up, with Stars skipper Rick Bowness explaining that he needed a couple practices after being “unfit to play” in their round-robin capper.)
Just three shifts later, Dube hustled into enemy territory, breezed around Stars defenceman Andrej Sekera like he was standing still and then finished on a slick move to his forehand.
Believe it or not, that coulda-woulda-maybe-shoulda been his hat-trick marker. Dube had a breakaway in between, but he couldn’t calm a bouncing puck and didn’t get much of a shot off.
“Maybe for some people that haven’t watched us a lot, he stands out as a surprise,” Ward said of Dube, who skates alongside Lucic and Sam Bennett on a hard-working, hard-hitting third line. “But to his teammates and coaches, we’ve seen this building for a while now.”
The Stars did all of their offensive damage during a nine-second span in Tuesday’s middle stanza.
The first, credited to Denis Gurianov, glanced off TJ Brodie’s back-side. Then, Jamie Benn’s wrister from long range also appeared to be deflected, turning into a bouncer that snuck over Talbot’s right pad and under his blocker.
Besides those two quick strikes, the Flames starter was perfect for the rest of Game 1.
Andersson ensured he was rewarded for it. The score had been knotted for all of five minutes when he stickhandled up ice and sizzled a shot under the cross-bar for what would stand as the game-winner.
The gritty defenceman totalled five goals prior to the pandemic pause. That was his second of the restart, the other fired into an empty net.
“I think it’s just everyone pulling in the right direction,” Dube said post-game. “Guys are going to have their nights. It’s going to be different every single night. It’s just our group willing to accept that and just go in the right direction together.
“It was good to see Ras get that game-winner. I think it’s just going to lead throughout the team for the rest of the time here.”
On this night, the youngsters took the lead for the Flames.
Dube and Andersson were ready for the playoff spotlight. Those beards should have been our first clue.
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