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Top trio looking to shake off slow start to playoffs

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

There’s more to give. It’s up to the trio to find it.

The top line of the Calgary Flames -- rookie Johnny Gaudreau, sophomore Sean Monahan and veteran Jiri Hudler -- have been noticeable by their absence through the opening two games in the Western Conference First Round matchup against the Vancouver Canucks.

Two skates into the best-of-7 series and Calgary’s best unit, which combined for 95 points over the final 33 regular season games, have been all but completely wiped from the score sheet.

"We haven't produced as much offence as we would have liked,” said Gaudreau, in his first taste of Stanley Cup Playoffs action. “Right now the series is tied 1-1 and we haven't played our best obviously. It's great to see that we're in the series tied 1-1 right now and more offence is going to come for us."

Hudler, with 37 of those points down the stretch, has been blanked through the first two games in Vancouver.

Gaudreau, with 27, and Monahan, with 31, each have an assist -- coming on Kris Russell’s second of the season in a two-little-too-late push with the man advantage in the final stages of Game 2. The pair has combined for seven shots on Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack.

After scoring 31 of Calgary’s final 65 goals down the stretch, the trio total just eight pucks on net total through 120 minutes of playoff hockey.

"Obviously we need to put pucks in the net and create offence,” Monahan said. “We haven’t done a good job there but we're not worried about that. We know we've got a lot more and we're going to show that [Sunday] night.

“We've all put up good numbers all year and found ways to create offence. It's not a worry of ours right now and we know that we can do it."

Experience, or lack thereof, isn’t an excuse the line is using.

Not when you consider the playoff-like pace the Flames had to keep up in order to earn a first round date with the Pacific Division rival.

No excuse necessary at all.

"No excuses for that,” Hudler said. “We're talking as a line with each other and we know we've got to be better but if we're not going to get on the score sheet we need to play good and we've got to get wins. Obviously we've got to do better than that.

“We played a lot of games like this -- this is the official playoffs but we played a lot of games like this to get in. Just don't be too tight, let’s not lose and go out there. We know that things aren't always going to be great, that's normal.”

Lining up opposite Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alexandre Burrows, Calgary’s top unit has been blanked.

Vancouver’s top grouping owns 268 games’ worth of playoff experience.

The Flames? Seventy-two. Sixty-eight belongs to Hudler.

The approach, even with last change on home ice, doesn’t change.

“I believe in head-to-head,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. “Those guys have been great. It’s just two games. Just two games. They’re two great young players with [Hudler]. My job is to take pressure away from them, not add pressure. They know. They’re two great kids. [Hudler] is a great veteran. They’ve got the job done for us all year.

“This is a different scenario. This is a different challenge. They’re going to fight through and they’re going to learn.”

Different environment, but Gaudreau is hoping the same results as the regular season are just around the corner for he and his linemates.

"It's still the same game,” Gaudreau, 21, said. “We've got to play the same way we've been playing all season long. It's a new experience for us but at the same time we're playing the same game that we've been playing our whole lives. We just have to make sure we start to produce offence a little bit more."

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