The Calgary Flames beat the Dallas Stars by a score of 3-2 last night in Game 1 of their first-round series of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But, as far as surprises go, that’s not the biggest one. It’s fair to say that – so far – the Flames have been one of the surprise teams of the 2020 postseason. Hockey fans know the NHL playoffs can bring on surprises, but these Calgary Flames having three of them is quite an accomplishment.
The first surprise is that the aging-wonder Milan Lucic has now scored in each of the team’s five postseason games. Is it my imagination that he even looks to have picked up a step or two in his skating and seems able to be keep up with the young guys, as well? His best days might be clearly behind him, but he’s found a fountain of youth somewhere and Flames fans have to hope his glass isn’t getting empty.
The second surprise for the Flames is 22-year-old Dillon Dube. It’s not like he hasn’t shown he can score; in fact, with the AHL’s Stockton Heat he was a point-per-game player during both 2018-19 and 2019-20. But, he seems to be a new player this postseason. He split both of the last two seasons between the Heat and the Flames, but I think he’ll be given a shot on the Flames full-time roster next season for sure.
Third, Cam Talbot hasn’t played this well in several seasons – not since he helped the Edmonton Oilers push to the Western Conference Semifinal during the 2016-17 postseason.
In this edition of Flames News & Rumors, I’ll try to help Flames fans keep up with the latest surprises of the postseason world of this team.
Item One: Can Milan Lucic Do Everything for His Team?
In late July, I wrote a post noting that Flames coach Geoff Ward was happy to have Lucic as part of his team heading into postseason play. Ward cited the playoff experiences he and Lucic shared when they were together with the Boston Bruins back in the day. Prior to the playoffs, Ward hoped that the Flames could lean on Lucic’s experience to help them make a push toward the Stanley Cup. At that time, I asked the question: Does he have another great postseason in him?
So far, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Ward has expanded Lucic’s role on the team, even asking him to take faceoffs. And, who knew? Although Lucic hasn’t traditionally been used to taking faceoffs in his career, he certainly was effective in Game 1 against the Stars, winning 11 of 16 draws. That’s quite amazing.
As Ward noted, “He’s been good there. He’s got strength and does an awful lot of things with his power. He’s been good in the circle, so we just decided to keep rolling with him there. And he likes it; he likes taking the draws. For years, he never did. Right now, he’s doing a good job with it. For us, starting with the puck is a huge advantage, and he’s a guy that, right now, is winning a lot more draws than he’s losing.”
Honestly, it should have been a no-brainer. Good for Ward for thinking of it. Lucic might be slowing down, but he’s not losing his smarts or experience. He’s also still strong as an ox, beating Winnipeg Jets defenseman Nathan Beaulieu into the ice just after the faceoff of the team’s series-clinching victory over the Jets.
Lucic also has a five-game point streak starting in Game 1 of the team’s qualifying-round series. He had the primary assist in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Stars on Dube’s goal and has scored a goal and four assists in five games so far during the postseason.
Item Two: Who Knew Dillon Dube Could Score Like This?
As I noted earlier, Dube didn’t show this kind of scoring ability during his 2019-20 season with the Flames. During last season, he scored only 6 goals and 16 points during 45 games. However, during his last three postseason games, Dube’s scored three goals and has four points.
Dube is fast becoming a Flames’ playoff hero – and I emphasize “fast.” In the Game 1 win, he scored two goals, one of them on the power play. Both goals were undoubtedly shown over and over again on highlight reels.
On goal one, Lucic sent him a great cross-ice pass; Dube absolutely blasted it past a helpless Anton Kudobin in goal. On the second goal, he took off on a solo rush and passed the Stars defenseman like he was hitchhiking before sweeping into the crease and tucking the puck past the goalie.
The youngster showed great speed and skill on both goals, staking the Flames a 2-0 lead. As Dube described his second goal, ”I came through with some speed. At that point, I just wanted to challenge him. And luckily enough, I got to step on him.”
Item Three: Can Cam Talbot Keep Stopping the Puck When He Needs to?
Talbot stopped all but two shots (making 24 of 26 saves) during the Game 1 win. He was strong for the Flames during the qualifying round against Winnipeg with a 3-1 record, a 1.51 goals-against average, and .945 save percentage.
During Game 1, although the Stars fought back by scoring twice on 11 shots during the second period, Talbot shut the door until young Rasmus Andersson scored the game-winner for the Flames. Talbot’s now won four postseason games in a row and has given up two goals or less in four of those five games.
What’s Next for the Flames?
Because both teams are in the Western Conference, it seems odd that the Flames and Stars haven’t met often during the playoffs. This is the first time the two teams have faced each other during postseason playoffs since the North Stars moved to Dallas and dropped the North from the team’s name.
The Flames last played the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup Semifinal in 1981 and lost that series 4-2. The two teams play again on Thursday night. Flames fans should look for a low-scoring series. The Stars have one of the NHL’s best defenses and scoring goals against them can be difficult.