SUN Hockey Pool

Third line's a charm

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

Alex Tanguay believes any credit swung towards the Calgary Flames' third line is well deserved.

Long overdue, too.

But Tanguay doesn't want the line of Stephane Yelle, Wayne Primeau and Matthew Lombardi to receive too much praise.

"I don't want them to get their heads too swollen up right now, but I hope they keep playing that way because it's fun to watch," Tanguay said with a grin. "They've been a great line for us."

As the NHL season draws down to the short strokes and the playoffs beckon, the difference between winning and losing goes beyond the stars.

The tired cliche of "your best players have to be your best players" rings true, but for the Flames, the difference between an early exit and a lengthy Stanley Cup run extends beyond the likes of Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, Miikka Kiprusoff, Daymond Langkow and Tanguay.

The key is what the depth players can accomplish.

Tanguay, who like the rest of his teammates enjoyed a day off yesterday, has first-hand knowledge to back that claim.

"Drawing from previous experiences, I remember the year we won the Stanley Cup (in Colorado in 2001) ... we had a third line that every time they went on the ice -- most of the time against the top line -- and it seemed they scored big goals," Tanguay said of a crew that included Yelle, Shjon Podein and Eric Messier.

"Every time your third line is a plus and creating chances, playing in the other team's zone and building momentum, it's great."

For proof, look no further than the Flames 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday.

Oh sure, Iginla, Langkow and Phaneuf were the heroes with the timely goals, but the third line played a huge role in the win that vaulted the Flames back into top spot in the Northwest Division.

The line of Yelle, Primeau and Lombardi helped turn the tide. They were arguably the only trio to accomplish much of anything in the opening period and did a masterful job of building and keeping the momentum in Calgary's favour in the final 40 minutes.

They may have failed to score, but the third line was instrumental by forechecking in Vancouver's zone, not allowing the Canucks to swing the tide in their favour.

Want proof? How about the eight hits Yelle was credited for in the contest -- one more than the entire Canucks squad was scored to have.

"Some games it happens like that, you're in a spot to be physical," Yelle said. "In the second period, I had some good opportunities."

It's worth noting the Yelle-Lombardi-Primeau grouping was created a little more than a month ago, during the club's five-game road swing through the Pacific Division.

Made up of three natural centres, it took a bit of time for things to click. Over the past few weeks, though, they've become an integral part in the club's fortunes.

Could it be this trio -- with Lombardi's speed, Primeau's size and Yelle's uncanny sense of the game -- that will rival what Yelle had with the Avs?

"I think it's getting there," Yelle said.

"I think we're starting to feel comfortable with each other. We've been together for a while now and had some pretty good games. We haven't maybe scored or brought offence as much as we'd like, but if we keep working like that, we'll get our chances.

"When you're struggling to score, you don't want to be on the minus side because that amplifies it.

"We want to work hard, get momentum offensively, get some hits. Just get going."

For Yelle, the role is particularly rewarding. Earlier this season, he was scratched for a couple of games and used sparingly in others, and some questioned whether the veteran nicknamed Sandbox was too far past his prime.

Yelle, who's been through his share of post-season runs -- he has a pair of Stanley Cup titles to his name and was part of the run to the 2004 final with Calgary -- knows all too well how the games ramp up this time of year.

"Well, you want to play good and hard all year, but when it comes down to the race we're in right now, everybody's got to bring their game every night," he said.

"If not, you run the risk of not making the playoffs."


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