Sunday April 26th, 2015

Down 3–0 less than 10 minutes into Game 6, the Flames pulled out their familiar comeback script, erasing that deficit with a three-goal run of their own. With the game within reach at the start of the third period, Calgary produced another resilient finish with a flourish. Matt Stajan sent a rebound into the top corner of the net with 4:17 to play to give the Flames their first lead of the night, and Calgary pulled out a 7–4 win over the Canucks to reach the second round for the first time since 2004, when the team reached the Stanley Cup finals. They’ll face the Ducks, who swept Winnipeg.

Three thoughts on a high-octane series-clincher:

1. The Flames’ top line carried the weight.

Stajan was the hero, starting the rally with a great pass to Michael Ferland on a 2-on-1 and making his first career playoff goal count for the game-winner. But in between those tallies, Calgary’s top line consisting of veteran Jiri Hudler, Calder Trophy finalist Johnny Gaudreau and 20-year-old center Sean Monahan drove the action during the Flames’ latest late-game surge.

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That line was at its best with quick sticks and great instincts in tight areas, beating back the Canucks’ near-constant pressure with their hyper-efficient shifts that seemed to always end up in chaos in front of the Vancouver net. Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller had allowed just one goal in his first five periods’ worth of action this series, but he struggled with his rebound control against the opportunistic Flames and is now 4-6 in his career when facing elimination.

Monahan cut the deficit to 3–2 just over a minute into the second period, poking a puck past Miller on his backhand. The Canucks responded by pinning the Flames into their own end with an exhausting shift prolonged by four consecutive icings, but soon after Hudler won a puck battle on a dump-in along the boards and found the stick of a streaking Gaudreau ready to redirect it home to tie the game.

The Canucks retook the lead, but that only brought out the Flames’ smoothest goal of the night, with a special assist from a questionable goaltender interference call on Brandon McMillan. On the ensuing power play, Gaudreau slapped a quick pass to the slot, where Monahan redirected the puck to Hudler on the goal line, and Hudler made no mistake in front of a gaping goalmouth with Miller well out of position. The trio teamed up one last time for all three points attached to Hudler’s empty-net goal that set off the celebration in the Saddledome.

Through the first five games of the series, the Hudler-Monahan-Gaudreau line had registered seven points; in Game 6, the linemates combined for 10. For the Flames to upset the top-seeded Ducks in the second round, that trio will have to keep playing like world-beaters.

2. Jonas Hiller was not the problem in the early going.

Hiller was pulled less than eight minutes into the game after allowing two goals on three shots, leaving Karri Ramo to mind the net for the Flames’ furious comeback and pick up his first playoff win.

The Canucks’ first goal of the night came from an unlikely source in McMillan, who had scored just once in 58 games this season before he jumped on a juicy rebound in the slot and slapped it past Hiller just 2:36 into the game. Calgary coach Bob Hartley pulled Hiller five minutes later after the second goal, a Jannik Hansen wrist shot across his body that was set up when both Flames defenders were thrown into disarray by a cross-ice moving screen by Shawn Matthias.

Ramo finished with 17 saves and came up huge with a great poke check on Henrik Sedin as the Canucks captain danced in alone in the final seconds, which proved to be Vancouver’s last great scoring chance before the Flames dumped in two empty-netters to widen the final margin. Hiller’s early exit was merely the most prominent of the many levers Hartley pulled to turn around a flat first period, so don’t expect a goalie controversy ahead of Game 1 in Anaheim.

3. It’s hard to say the Canucks didn’t do all they could.

The Flames entered the playoffs generating just 44.4% of the shot attempts in their regular season games, the third worst percentage in the league.

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But as has been written countless times, Flames games haven’t been turning out like the numbers say they should all season long. First-year Canucks coach Willie Desjardins upped the ice time of Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s line in the final three games of the series, and the twins responded with their typically dominant displays of puck possession and a beautiful pair of assists to set up Radim Vrbata for the game’s third goal.

Ultimately, the Canucks couldn’t solve the puzzle that drove the rest of the Western Conference to madness during the regular season, and that failure will look less and less glaring in the record books the deeper the Flames take their playoff run this spring.

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