Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Gilbert the unlikely hero in Calgary Flames’ New Year’s Eve victory
By Ryan Pike1 month ago
You could be forgiven if, heading into the Calgary Flames’ New Year’s Eve tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers, blueliner Dennis Gilbert wasn’t the first player you would have predicted to be the difference-maker in the hockey game.
But hockey’s a weird, wild game, and that’s essentially what transpired on Sunday night in a 4-3 Flames win over the Flyers.
Through his previous 25 appearances, Gilbert had just five points – tied with Nick DeSimone, a scratch against the Flyers, for the least among the Flames’ blueliners with 10 or more appearances. Of all the Flames’ blueliners, only DeSimone had played fewer minutes (per game) than Gilbert. And in the grand scheme of things, Gilbert was probably best known by Flames fans for his pugilistic tendencies than his puck-handling.
While the discourse before the game centred on a swap of wingers Jonathan Huberdeau and Andrew Mangiapane to new lines, two smart plays by Gilbert helped punctuate strong outings by those two players and, in a few ways, tilted the game for the team in red.
Down 1-0 in the second period, the Flames got an initial rush into the Flyers’ zone near the end of the period that they couldn’t get a chance on. But they chased down the puck and cycled around the zone. Gilbert made a strong puck management play at the blueline to maintain possession, leading to Andrew Mangiapane setting up Mikael Backlund for the game-tying goal. The assist was part of a three-point evening for Mangiapane, his first since Jan. 23.
Gilbert admitted he knew the Flyers were tired, but also laid claim to a mistake earlier on that sequence.
“Yeah, I actually fumbled a pass before that on the rush,” said Gilbert. “And then it kicked back out to me. And I knew they were kinda tired, end of a shift, and me and Chris [Tanev] were out there, too. We were about to change and it squirted out, I tried to get it back down to Mange, another great play and Backs makes the finish.”
The Flames took their first lead of the evening 7:29 into the third period. Blake Coleman was toppled to the ice along the wall just inside the Flyers zone. The loose puck was collected by Jonathan Huberdeau, who found Gilbert heading towards the Flyers net with a crisp past. Gilbert beat Samuel Ersson to give the Flames a 2-1 lead. The assist was Huberdeau’s first point since Nov. 30.
Did Gilbert know the pass was coming when he jumped into the rush?
“No, I saw Colesy kinda take a spill,” said Gilbert. “So I was honestly just checking to see if he was alright. And then Huby had it and we know what kind of great vision he has, such a good passer, and he found me and I just got it over the goalie’s shoulder.”
With all the chatter about how Huberdeau and Mangiapane had struggled prior to the game, it was unique to see Gilbert serve as a key figure in two important goals that represented big games for those respective teammates.
Speaking with the media in the Flames’ locker room, Gilbert was asked if he had made a New Year’s resolution regarding scoring.
“I mean, no, but I hadn’t scored this year,” said Gilbert. “So it would’ve been tough if like in March and they’re like ‘First goal of the year!’ That would have been kind of a tough look. My New Year’s resolution was to take my daily vitamin and be healthier.”
The Flames are back in action on Tuesday evening when they visit the Minnesota Wild to kick off a four game road trip.
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