CALGARY, AB -- Welcome to the C of Red, Vancouver.
The buzz inside the 'Dome on Sunday was something to behold.
Sam Bennett, Michael Ferland, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows, TJ Brodie ... take a bow. Center stage were those players and more on a night where a hockey game was more than that. The entertainment value of what was staged at the Scotiabank Saddledome last night is hard to explain. The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks playoff series is getting more and more interesting with each game.
It was quite the night for the C of Red.
If the Vancouver Canucks didn't know who Michael Ferland was last week, they certainly do now.
The wrecking-ball forward -- celebrating his 23rd birthday today -- dished out nine hits last night and none of them went unnoticed by 19,289 Flames' faithful or the hundreds-of-thousands watching on CBC.
It was clear Bob Hartley gave Ferland his marching orders and nothing was lost in translation. Vancouver defencemen had their heads on a swivel most of the night with Ferland chasing them down all over the ice finishing every check.
"Right from the get-go he delivered some clean, solid, hard hits and that's the way that we always play," Harley said. "He filled in and took advantage of Lance Bouma's injury and he's really creating a good role for himself."
When asked about Ferland's antics after the game, Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksa said, "He's pretty irrelevant so far."
Ten minutes earlier, Bieksa dropped his gloves and pumped Ferland with three punches before the Flames forward realized he wasn't battling for the puck anymore.
Sam Bennett's first NHL goal was a biggie.
The 18-year-old, a journeyman of four NHL games -- one regular season game -- collected his first NHL goal in dramatic fashion. The marker gave the Flames a 3-1 lead in the final period and Bennett became the second youngest player in franchise history to score a winning goal in the playoffs. The youngest? Jarome Iginla.
"Sammy, you should have seen the smile on this kid’s face on the bench after his first goal, but he brings so much," Hartley said of his prized rookie. "He makes things happen out there. His speed, his determination … he’s a special young man. He’s just learning how to play our system and everything. I’m very impressed with Sammy."
Bennett's status for Game 3 was in question after taking some abuse in Game 2, he saw just a few minutes of ice in the third period and was planted on the bench for the rest of it. Game 3 was a different story.
Skating on a unit with Mikeal Backlund and Joe Colborne, Bennett's forecheck was relentless. He's not afraid to go to the net and created scoring chances all night long as he's done all series.
The victim of a questionable Dan Hamhuis headshot, Bennett was slow to get up but relatively un-phased by the incident and didn't lose a step. Earlier in the game, Bennett was rocked at centre ice -- cutting through the middle with his head down -- by Yannick Weber. The rookie forward bounced right up almost as quick as he went down.
"I had my head down. I was going for the puck and then the next thing I know I got a hit to the face, but I guess the refs got it so I don’t have anything else to say," Bennett said of the blow he took from Hamhuis.
The C of Red was back last night in full force.
The atmosphere of the crowd was something not seen in these parts since the run of '04. The fans were amped up and ready to go hours before puck drop and the energy was felt in the Flames' locker room.
"It was unbelievable," said Hartley, who had his first taste of playoff hockey in the 'Dome. "Players were walking in before the game and they were already commenting on fans outside. We were in the locker room and we could hear them -- ‘Go Flames Go,’. It was unbelievable. We got on the ice. They were already fired up in the room and that momentum really carried us."
The fan support gave Sean Monahan and extra boost as well.
"I don’t think there was one person without a jersey on," he said. "It really is a sea of red. Those fans are dedicated and it’s pretty amazing to see those guys come out and support us like that."
TJ Brodie played one of his best games of the season.
Not only did the blueliner score a huge goal in the opening period with a point blast that beat Lack, but he also drew an assist on Brandon Bollig's opening marker, was credited with six blocked shots, three takeaways and was a plus-1 on the night.
Brodie showcased his skating ability in the 26:20 minutes of ice time he clocked, jumping up into the play whenever possible and quite often the first man back.
He was quick to credit the work of the forwards.
"The forecheck was great tonight, guys were getting on the pucks quick taking the body," Brodie said. "We forced some turnovers and that's big for momentum. getting those turnovers leads to chances."
The Flames' top unit of Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan had been the brunt of criticism in the first two contests for lack of production.
Outside of the third period in the Game 1, the trio hadn't generated mush in terms of chances until last night.
It's obvious the Canucks are trying to play a physical game against them, but they responded last night with several quality scoring chances and converted a powerplay marker in the third period.
"We want to get on the board and help our team win," Monahan said. "That was a little bit of an insurance goal there and 5-on-3, you have to find ways to score especially here in the situation we’re in."