Friday, March 31

Dube could be playoff X-Factor for Flames

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NASHVILLE — Playoff poolies are taking note.

Trouble is, Dillon Dube might be jeopardizing his own sleeper status.

With the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs just around the corner, the Calgary Flames’ third-line forward is on a heater.

Perhaps this shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise. As Flames coach Darryl Sutter has mentioned on a couple of occasions: “If you look at his track record of him, wherever he’s played, Dillon shows up at important times.”

Over the past couple of weeks, the 23-year-old speedster has been regularly showing up on the scoresheet.

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Dube tallied twice more in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime triumph over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena and has now splurged for eight goals in a seven-game span.

He has totaled nine tallies in April, half of his season total. Across the league, only seven guys have more markers this month — a list that includes Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon and Auston Matthews.

“I think I just needed to be a lot better for this team going into the final stretch, to elevate my game to get ready for playoffs and try to get into that spot,” Dube said after tucking two in Saturday’s home victory over the Vancouver Canucks. “I think I needed to be a lot better, so it’s been going better of late.”

Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk are the undisputed offensive catalysts for the Flames, but everybody knows that secondary scoring is an essential ingredient for any extended playoff push and Dube has the makings of a could-be X-Factor for the Pacific Division pennant -winners.

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He has the speed and sandpaper to create havoc on the forecheck.

He has the skill to finish on his opportunities.

He’s currently brimming with confidence and clicking with linemates Jarnkrok Street and Blake Coleman, two dudes who play with a similar determination. Collectively, they could be more than a mild annoyance for the opponents in a best-of-seven series.

It’s a bonus that Dube can grow a full playoff beard in roughly the same amount of time required to cook a pot roast. Remember, too, that he was among the standouts in the Flames’ most recent post-season appearance, notching four goals during a 10-game stay in the bubble in 2020.

Only Sam Bennett tickled more twine for the Calgarians during those summer showdowns. (Dube was tied for second on the team charts with Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund.)

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“I think that was big for me, taking that step,” acknowledged Dube, who accumulated a good chunk of big-game experience thanks to two world-junior tournaments — including a golden moment as Captain Canada — and three consecutive trips to the conference final or beyond with the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets. “But it was obviously a lot different in the way it happened — having however many months off and coming back and playing in the bubble. It was a lot different, and it’s in the past too. You can’t just expect to be a good playoff player because I had a couple good games. And at the same time, we didn’t get to where we wanted to, so obviously I didn’t feel like I performed well enough.

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“In the playoffs, you have to get out of your comfort zone. You could say I played well because I was scoring goals. But if I’m not scoring, I need to play well without the puck and just play how I’ve built through these 82 games.”

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Sutter certainly seems pleased with the way that No. 29 is trending. He has offered plenty of praise of late, including this nugget from Saturday’s post-game presser: “He’s his own worst critic and he listens. I’m good with that.”

The youngest regular on the Flames’ roster, Dube has clearly been paying attention to the recent moaning and groaning from the boss that there is too much focus on individual performance.

Despite his April outburst, he’s been expertly stick-handling around questions about his personal play, about whether he’s popping at the perfect time.

“It’s about getting to our best hockey and the best team we can possibly be heading into the playoffs,” Dube stressed. “Because yeah, it was a huge goal to get into the playoffs. But if you’re not playing good hockey at that point, it’s a waste of a lot of hockey before if you’re not ready. So I think it’s really important for our group to be at our best.”

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