The Calgary Flames’ Bubble Boys are back.
Reunited for the first time since they dominated as the Flames’ best line in last summer’s playoffs, Milan Lucic, Dillon Dube and Sam Bennett turned yet another slow start around with energy and a pair of goals that changed the game’s complexion.
Thrust together due to an injury to Mikael Backlund that prompted changes to all four lines, the trio gave the Flames a spark late in a first period that they trailed 2-0.
With the team reeling from having to try to kill four penalties in the period, Lucic’s goal with 25 seconds left in the frame kickstarted a three-goal spree that put the team in control until the game’s final minute.
“I thought they played an integral part in getting us going tonight,” said coach Geoff Ward following the team’s 4-3 win, capped by Johnny Gaudreau’s overtime blast.
“Putting them back together was a real good thing for our team in terms of what they brought — exactly the same energy as the bubble. I thought they were excellent all night. They had some heavy shifts, two goals and really turned the game around for us after we had to kill all the penalties.”
Lucic’s fourth of the year came on a delayed penalty, punctuating the team’s first heavy, dominant shift of the game. Just prior to that the Flames had more penalties (four) than shots on goal (three) as part of the team’s troubling trend of first period face plants.
From there they flourished.
Elias Lindholm tied the game midway through the second before Dube got his stick in between Nate Schmidt’s Steve Smith imitation, which saw an ill-advised pass attempt up the middle bounce in off the back of goalie Thatcher Demko’s pad.
It was another in a series of fortuitous bounces for a Flames club that has used every one of them to win four of their last five, despite several horrific stretches.
The Canucks threatened to ruin the good vibes the Flames flew home with Monday night with a shorthanded goal from Brock Boeser while the goalie was pulled and only 30.2 seconds remained in regulation.
However, Gaudreau one-timed a great pass from Sean Monahan past Demko early in overtime for the team’s first successful power play conversion in four tries. His 10th goal of the season came on his seventh shot of the night.
“Great pass by Monny, he sold the shot,” said Gaudreau, whose club gets its fourth-straight shot at the Canucks Wednesday in Calgary.
“The goalie kind of was slow to get over and I finished it into an empty net. We’re very capable of playing a solid, 60-minute game. Obviously, Saturday wasn’t the team we know we are. I thought we played a really good, strong second and third period. We found a way to win in overtime and come out of here with four of six points.”
The overtime goal was challenged as being offside but was allowed to stand thanks to the new rule this year allowing a player to remain onside of their skate is off the ice but about the blue line.
Surrendering the first goal for the ninth time this season, it marked the fourth time the Flames have overcome an early deficit — something they couldn’t do Saturday when the Canucks embarrassed the Flames, out-shooting them 46-19 in a 3-1 win.
“That was the response we were looking for after the last game,” said Rasmus Andersson, who set up the Flames’ first two goals with perfect passes.
“To get one with 25 seconds left in the period was obviously a momentum shift and in the second and third period I thought we played really well.”
It was an interesting evening for Andersson and the bulk of a defensive group that held tight despite two new pairings. Andersson was stripped of power play duties and asked to simplify his game alongside Connor Mackey, whose second NHL game featured three penalties and his first NHL assist.
For the first time this year Juuso Valimaki was handed the keys to the power play and he ended up playing almost twice as many minutes with the extra man (3:50) than his new playing partner, Mark Giordano (2:23), did.
As a group they did well to limit the number of shots on Jacob Markstrom to 33 despite having to try to kill six power plays, including a 5-on-3 that saw the Canucks score to make it 2-0 late in the first.
“Once we found our game we played really well,” said Dube.
It just took a while.