EDMONTON — Dillon Dube and his linemates may be third on the Calgary Flames depth chart, but they are grabbing headlines in the NHL playoffs.
Dube scored twice Tuesday while linemates Milan Lucic and Sam Bennett pasted players into the boards and won puck battles in a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in the opener of their of their best-of-seven, first-round NHL playoff series.
It was a continuation of their play from the best-of-five qualifying round, when they scored four goals and nine points and set a physical tone in a 3-1 triumph over the Winnipeg Jets.
“At the start of the game we knew it had to be like (the) Winnipeg (series): get on them and push the pace right away,” said Dube following the afternoon contest in an empty Rogers Place.
“We were fortunate enough to get those two right away to get ourselves a lead in the start and kind of just kept rolling with that for the rest of the game. It felt good.
“Our line’s gotta keep playing that simple game that leads to that success.”
Rasmus Andersson broke a 2-2 tie for eighth-seeded Calgary. Denis Gurianov and Jamie Benn replied for Dallas, which went 1-2 in the seeding round to earn the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
The first goal came on the power play, with Dallas winger Alexander Radulov off for interference. Lucic threaded a cross-ice pass to Dube, who one-timed a shot past the outstretched glove of Dallas netminder Anton Khudobin.
As the Flames celebrated, Radulov swore a blue streak at the refs as he skated back to the Stars bench.
Dube’s second goal was highlight-reel stuff, undressing third-pairing Dallas defenceman Andrej Sekera.
Blasting down the right wing, Dube went wide around Sekera, swooped in front of the net, held the puck and tucked it past a sprawled Khudobin.
“I came through with some speed. At that point I just wanted to challenge him. If worse came to worse, we would just kind of battle it into the corner,” said the 22-year-old Dube, a second-round pick (56th overall) in 2016.
“Luckily enough, I got a step on him and was able to get to the net.”
A native of Golden, B.C., Dube had a busy period. He later went off for cross-checking Dallas forward Jason Dickinson head first into the boards. (“That’s a dangerous play. I’m going to call it every time,” a referee could be heard barking at Dube afterward in the empty arena).
Dube jumped out of the penalty box and took the puck on a breakaway, but was foiled on the shot by Khudobin.
Dallas pushed back in the second period, peppering Calgary goalie Cam Talbot with shots to even the score.
Gurianov fired a wrist shot from the blue line that appeared to bounce off the back of Calgary defenceman T.J. Brodie and in. Nine seconds later, Benn wristed a knucklepuck from the blue line that bounced in front of Talbot, under his stickside arm and in.
Calgary regained the lead late in the period, with Sekera again playing a leading role. Andersson whipped the puck from the right faceoff circle and it deflected off Sekera’s stick and over Khudobin’s shoulder.
Sekera said he was playing the odds: “I just tried to take the middle away and let him shoot from a bad angle. I tried to put a stick there and block it but it went off my stick. Those things happen in sport.”
The game also featured a title bout of team super pests Corey Perry and Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk. The two dropped the gloves off the draw in the first period and exchanged haymakers before Tkachuk knocked Perry down.
The two are famous for antics, pre and post-whistle, that get under opponents’ skins. In the second period, Lucic mixed it up with Perry for shooting the puck after the whistle.
Dallas defenceman Miro Heiskanen said the Stars weren’t ready when the puck dropped.
“We weren’t good in the first period. We’ve got to be right away when the game starts and that’s the reason why we lost today,” said Heiskanen.
Perry added: “They were ready and I thought our last two periods is the better way we want to play.”
Khudobin started instead of the Stars’ No. 1 goalie, Ben Bishop. A three-time Vezina Trophy nominee, Bishop was out for two of three games in the round-robin seeding round but dressed for the Calgary contest. Khudobin looked sharp in the Stars’ final round-robin game, a 2-1 shootout victory over St. Louis.
Each team had 26 shots.
The game was a microcosm of the Stars’ season: strong defence, not enough offence.
The top four defenders — Jamie Oleksiak, Heiskanen, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell — allowed few rebounds or close-in shots.
But the offence fell short. The team’s leading scorer Tyler Seguin (17 goals, 50 points in the regular season) returned to the lineup after being deemed unfit to play for two of the round-robin games, but did not have a shot on net and was minus-1.
Dallas averaged 2.58 goals per game (26th in the NHL) in the regular season and scored just five times (once on the shootout) in three round-robin games.
But they allowed 2.52 goals per game on average. Only the Boston Bruins were stingier (2.39).
This is the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs since the Stars moved to Dallas. Calgary played the Minnesota North Stars in the final four in the spring of 1981, losing 4-2.
Game 2 goes Thursday night.
All Western Conference post-season games are being played at Rogers Place. Players are also staying isolated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 11, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press