There were lots of unknowns about our team because yes we’re young, but at the same time I always tell them we’re going to replace experience with grit and character and tonight that’s exactly what we did. The boys responded real well. - Bob Hartley
VANCOUVER, BC -- Turns out the kids are alright.
And in making their first career Stanley Cup Playoffs appearances, the likes of Sam Bennett, Michael Ferland and the untested youth of the Calgary Flames helped pace the group to a 2-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Rogers Arena on Wednesday.
“I thought that they already played a great game but now because we win,” coach Bob Hartley said. “I think it’s a great confidence booster. There were lots of unknowns about our team because yes we’re young, but at the same time I always tell them we’re going to replace experience with grit and character and tonight that’s exactly what we did. The boys responded real well.”
Ferland earned an assist and landed seven hits in 14:10 of action, and set up Calgary’s tying goal midway through the third period. Picking off a pass at the Canucks blue line, Ferland dropped a pass to David Jones, who zipped a shot over the glove of Eddie Lack to pull the Flames even at 1-1.
His turnaround came after an ill-advised cross-checking penalty with 13 seconds remaining in the first period.
“It’s easy playing with guys like [Matt Stajan] and [Jones],” Ferland said. “You go out there and you have one bad shift and they’re right there to calm you down, tell you to relax. When I took that penalty, I was pissed off and down on myself. They both told me not to change a thing, just keep playing the way I was playing and we’ll get one here.”
Jones, a veteran of 398 regular season and playoff games, made a point to settle down his 22-year-old linemate.
“He knew he kind of made a mistake there with the penalty but we need him to play like that,” Jones said. “He was really effective tonight. We’re going to need that strength and that kind of forecheck, especially missing a guy like [Lance Bouma]. He brings a lot of that tonight. I thought our line did a pretty good job tonight.”
Bennett helped set up Kris Russell’s game-winner with just 29.6 seconds remaining in regulation.
After working the puck over to Dennis Wideman, the 18-year-old Bennett crashed the net and provided the screen that allowed Russell’s wrist shot to escape Lack and enable the Flames win the series opener and steal home ice advantage away from Vancouver.
“Bob, he’s been huge on me getting in front of the net,” said Bennett, who in 14:58 of ice time also recorded two hits and four shots on Lack. “If you want to score, if you want to make plays, that’s where you’ve got to go. I just drove there and battled in front and [Russell] took an unbelievable shot.”
Bennett, perhaps Calgary’s most threatening forward Wednesday, wasn’t necessarily a lock to suit up in Game 1.
But the performance didn’t surprise his coach.
“Very impressed,” Hartley said. “We knew that the kid would come in with lots of grit. During his rehab we had a chance to spend many days with him even though he was not on the ice he was in every meeting. We were doing video with him to try to teach him our system. We had no clue he would be with us in the playoffs but today it turns into a great investment. He can skate. He’s a gritty player.
“He’s built for playoffs.”
Now Bennett knows what to expect for Game 2.
“This was definitely a different beast, this game,” Bennett said. “It was everything that I dreamed it could be. It was so much fun out there. It was so fast. To get the win there, first playoff game, that’s so huge. It felt amazing.
“Nothing compares to it. It’s so much faster. It’s so much more exciting. Just everything about it was everything I imagined it would be.”