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Trio of former Kings giving Sutter’s Flames meaningful minutes on fourth line

CALGARY — With the Calgary Flames clinging to a late, one-goal lead Tuesday night, Trevor Lewis flipped a dribbler towards the Chicago Blackhawks‘ empty net from centre ice.

As Dominik Kubalik closed in on his chance to sweep the puck out of harm’s way, Milan Lucic raced in with a chance to tap it in on the doorstep.

Instead, as the consummate teammate, the hulking veteran deftly stuck his stick out to shield the puck from the defender, allowing it to cross the goal line and clinch the team’s fourth-straight win.

“I was kind of a (bit) of a curler on that one — sweeper — to make sure it was going in because I knew one of their guys was coming back,” smiled Lucic after a 5-2 win at the Saddledome.

“I saw it was going in and just wanted to make sure it was going in for him.”

Lewis was clearly appreciative of the gesture.

“He told me I should have put it in,” laughed Lucic, when asked what his teammate said to him.

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Coach Darryl Sutter agreed the play was the type of selflessness that goes over big in NHL dressing rooms.

“Darn rights,” said Sutter, who only recently was able to put together his prized All the King’s Men Line, with Brad Richardson, Lewis and Lucic as his fourth unit. “It doesn’t bother them who scores or who doesn’t. It’s about winning. It just tells you about those guys that have won championships, too.

“I think it’s still filtering through our team for sure… You can see tonight, the experience from our older guys is really important. It probably allows (Elias Lindholm’s) line to persevere in the end. It tells you they are learning about it, too.”

Punctuating a seven-game road trip with their ninth game in 15 nights, the trio of former Kings took their turn in a spotlight that’s been occupied by a handful of regulars through the team’s 12-3-5 start.

The three veterans, who all played for Sutter in L.A., did it the way they were taught en route to their respective Stanley Cup runs: with a team-first dedication on full display in a tight game.

While it was Matthew Tkachuk whose fortuitous bounce off the skate of Seth Jones broke a 2-2 tie with five minutes remaining, this was a night of perpetual grinding that got the Flames across the finish line with two points they likely wouldn’t have procured a year or two ago.

“They were great,” said Tkachuk of the fourth unit. “Big goal for us (from Lucic) in the first when it was 1-1 and they had some momentum from their tying goal. It got us momentum back when we needed it.

“Then they put it away for us. People don’t realize how big those goals are when you can put a team away when their goalie is pulled. The past couple years it seemed we never got those and kept teams in it until the end. It stresses us out a little bit.”

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Dillon Dube opened the scoring 71 seconds in, with a snapshot from the top of the circle that somehow beat Marc-Andre Fleury cleanly.

It was the 16th time in 20 games the Flames scored first.

The Hawks took advantage of giveaways by the Flames to battle back twice, setting up a tense third period in which the Flames were running on fumes.

“There wasn’t much left there, was there? You could see it from the start,” said Sutter, who spoke in the morning about the role his club’s improved fitness has played in their early success. “But these are the ones you have to know how to win. The bottom line is they are tired.

“We were gone the whole time in the eastern time zone and you get home in the middle of the night (Monday morning) and have to play this game. It’s almost not fair. Give the players credit.”

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With three days off before Saturday’s home game against Winnipeg, the Flames spoke openly about relishing some time to relax, watch football on U.S. Thanksgiving and recharge following a monumental stanza that has them atop the Western Conference with a seven-game point streak.

“That flight home Sunday after the Boston game I don’t think anyone was in bed until 3:30 or four in the morning,” said Lucic, whose fifth of the year only served to heighten the Looooch cheers reverberating around the Dome. “It was probably the toughest stretch of our schedule, playing nine games in 15 days, which started and ended in Calgary.

“But I think we did a good job managing our energy, managing our rest and being fresh in all nine games. We were in all nine games, which is a great feeling as a team.

“To get those 12 points is a good sign for the team.”

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