CALGARY – For the bulk of the season, Sam Bennett’s impression of Lanny McDonald was limited strictly to his bushy moustache.
Last night he looked like ol’ No. 9 on the ice as well.
With the moustachioed Flames legend and his grandson looking on from the crowd, Bennett scored two goals reminiscent of the 500-goal man.
The second saw him corral a bouncing pass from Derek Ryan by kicking it up to his stick in alone before roofing the late game-winner in yet another frantic final frame.
The look on his face as he picked himself up from the end boards was one of shock and amazement, mirroring those in the stands who watched breathlessly as the hosts erased one-goal deficits four times in a 6-4 win over Detroit.
“I think I was just excited,” beamed Bennett of his nifty ninth of the year, breaking a 4-4 tie with four minutes left in a game the Flames trailed twice in the third.
“I knew the score and how many times we were down and it’s an emotional game and obviously with some offensive struggles this year it always feels good to put the puck in the net.
“Our top two lines have done more than enough for our team this year so it’s definitely a good feeling to be able to contribute and help out.”
He wasn’t alone, as his squad counted on the depth charges to emerge as heroes for a change.
Make no mistake – Mark Giordano scored his third shorty of the year, Sean Monahan got his 26th and Johnny Gaudreau extended his point streak to 10 games.
But a crafty redirection by James Neal was the second of three times on the night the second power-play unit chipped in, followed by two huge special teams setups by Derek Ryan in the third to ice the game.
“That’s the sign of a winning team – you have different players step up on different nights and contribute in different ways,” said Ryan, the club’s jack-of-all-trades, who also drew a big penalty late to finally get some recognition for more than just his all-world faceoff and penalty-killing prowess.
“It’s nice to get some secondary scoring. I think that’s going to be huge for us down the stretch of the regular season and the playoffs. You can’t rely so heavily on one line to take you to the Stanley Cup – that just doesn’t happen.”
The one thing that remained the same was the result, capping a 4-0-1 homestand the Flames feel good about as they line up in Edmonton Saturday night.
Their current 9-1-2 ride has included endless third-period surges like the one Friday that saw the Wings take the lead twice only to have the locals score two power-play goals, a short-handed strike and an empty netter.
“It’s fun to come to the rink every day – everyone is in good spirits,” said Bennett of the conference-leading run the Flames are enjoying with the rest of the otherwise sagging city.
“Most of the time it deflates you when (late goals against) keep happening, but our team, we never sag or get down on each other – we stick with it and that’s the mentality you need to have.
“It’s nice to have the confidence in our group to be able to come back. It’s not the position we want to be in as often as we are but to know that we’re never out of it is a great feeling.”
The mentality of the Flames goalie Friday has been in question for some time, as Mike Smith got just his second start since Jan. 3.
He responded with several key stops in a 31-save outing that upped his recent record to 9-2.
Time to start giving the man plenty of credit as a battler who has done wonders to regain his own confidence, if not that of the fans.
In a game far-too loose defensively for Bill Peters’ liking, Smith got the previously quiet crowd chanting with a kick save on Dylan Larkin early in the third that set up Neal’s second goal in 33 outings.
All of which leads to Saturday’s showdown against the Oilers, who likely watched on TV as the league’s hottest team won yet another shootout.
Cue all the talk that the game changes in the playoffs, meaning the Flames can’t count on winning pond hockey games when it matters most.
They have 33 games to work on it, not to mention a supporting cast for the stars proving they can chip in, too.