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Bennett, Ferland among rookies to spark Flames

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- The Calgary Flames' inexperience was the biggest question about them heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But with a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary's most inexperienced players have provided its biggest sparks.

"I knew it was going to take some time for everybody to kind of grow into the playoffs," Flames goaltender Jonas Hiller said. "But at the same time, I think a lot of young guys had already taken over lots of leadership in this group during the regular season, especially with having guys out, hurt, so the young guys had to step up. At this point, that definitely helps because they already have been in the situation where they have more responsibilities.

"Now, they can prove it again."

Game 4 is Tuesday in Calgary (10 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Flames have dressed at least five rookies in each of the three games and have used six total in the series.

Among those to play all three games are Sam Bennett, 18, and Micheal Ferland, who turned 23 on Monday.

Bennett, helping cycle the puck before providing a screen in front of Vancouver goaltender Eddie Lack, earned an assist on Kris Russell's Game 1 game-winner with 29.6 seconds remaining in the third. His goal early in the third period of Game 3 stood up as the game-winner.

"Any rookie or young guy, you expect them to feel their way in," Flames veteran center Matt Stajan said of Bennett, who had one regular-season game under his belt before drawing into the lineup for the playoffs. "Credit to him. He's a special kid, a special player for this team. He will be for a long time. We're excited about what he's doing now, and people should be excited about what he'll do over the next decade or maybe more."

Ferland, who has one assist, leads the series with 18 hits, third most in the playoffs. He had 67 hits in 26 regular-season games, his only NHL experience prior to the playoffs.

"I think he's been impactful for us, for our team, and our energy," Stajan said. "Whatever [the Canucks] want to say about it, he's been a big part of our success so far in the three games we played.

"He's here now and he's taking advantage of his opportunity. He's playing great and he's been key in creating the energy that we've been able to create in the first three games, especially last night with the crowd. He deserves everything he's getting right now and he wants more."

Calder Trophy candidate Johnny Gaudreau, who had 64 points (24 goals) in the regular season, hasn't scored but has two assists in the series for the Flames.

Calgary's relatively high number of rookies is offset by plenty of veteran leadership, helping to strike a successful balance early in the playoffs.

"Our leadership, our veterans, our dressing room is a very strong dressing room," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "Our young players are unbelievable, but Mark Giordano in the background, Matt Stajan, Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell … I hate to mention names because I always forgot some.

"We're a family. I think that we're bigger than a team; we're a close family. We all care about each other; we always pick up each other. For me it's not surprising; I'm very impressed, but I'm not surprised."

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