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'I'M JUST HAPPY'

Lucic's game-winning goal brought a smile to his face - and every one of his teammates, along with the C of Red

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

It wasn't the prettiest goal he's ever scored.

It didn't win a 2019 Chevy Malibu for a very nice lady named Cindy, the way Tobias Rieder's shortie had earlier in the evening.

But it did find the back of the net.

And it was an important one.

"I don't know if it hit the goalie's stick or the D-man's stick,'' confessed Milan Lucic. "But thankfully it ricocheted in.

"I've had a lot of bounces go the other way on me lately. But I can't think of that now.

"I'm just happy."

With the Flames seemingly cruising at 3-1, the big man played a little give-and-get with the surging Derek Ryan, sifting into the middle of the ice to slot behind Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark at 3:58 of the third period.

And, hey, as the scenario played out late, it goes down as a game-winning goal, to boot, in a 4-3 conquest of the visiting Buffalo Sabres at the Scotiabank Saddledome Thursday night.

"A little bit of relief," confessed Lucic. "Always nice to get the first one with your new team. My teammates all along have been sticking with me and building me up, cause took longer than I hoped and probably a lot of people hoped. But good on everyone for all the support.

"I'm more than excited that I was able to do it in front of the home fans. I think they've stuck with me throughout the whole season so far, never gave up on me.

"I was ready for it back. I was ready for (Ryan) to shoot. I was ready for a rebound. A great play by him to feed it back to me. Sometimes you just need those open nets to finally get one through."

On a night when Sean Monahan played to his poaching best, Johnny Gaudreau seemed hot-wired and cashed his first goal in nearly a month, Mikael Backlund stuck out in a dominating turn, the PK shut down a pair of 5-on-3s in going seven-for eight overall against a potent attack, and Reider's second as a Flame in his 400th NHL career start won the lady the Chevy Malibu in Shaganappi GM's Minute To Win It contest, the Lucic goal was the thing that had 18,085 fans inside the Scotiabank Saddledome rocking as if Jagger had just launched into Jumpin' Jack Flash.

 

Video: "Always nice to get the first one with your new team"

 

"That smile," is what Ryan recalled instantly from the moment. "And a nice goal, too, a good play by everybody involved. That's NHL hockey."

Reider's cool shorthanded finish was set in motion up by a Ryan shot block and dramatically snapped a 1-1 second-period tie.

"It's always big when you score shorthanded and when at the right time of the game,'' said Rieder. "After the goal, when I went on the bench, Monny told me: 'You just won the lady a car.' I'm like: 'What's going on?' Then I saw it on the JumboTron and she seemed really excited. I just met her outside and I'm really happy for these people."

The Sabres hit for two goals - one powerplay, the other even strength - over the closing 2:44 to make everyone unexpectedly squirm, just a little.

"A good 55 minutes,'' reckoned Ryan of the performance. "We haven't quite put together than full 60 minutes. The line changes, I thought there was a spark there. I thought we had some good shifts. Wardo has options. He can go a lot of different directions with the lines and there's a lot of chemistry in a lot of different places.

"Nice to get some 5-on-5 goals. We just got to lock down a little more there at the end.

"It's just been maybe a statement week. We're starting to find our game a little bit, slowly. We're still not there but we're feeling like the snowball's staring to pick up speed."

And the tornado that is Lucic at his most impactful should, with that overdue first tally now finally out of the way, start to gain velocity.

"I've had a lot of chances, not just in a handful of games,'' Lucic sighed. "Since the Vegas game I've really started to feel like myself again and finally get rewarded with one here.

"Now that you relive that feeling, its time to hold onto it and get it rolling."

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