Friday May 1st, 2015

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf tied a franchise record with four points apiece and Frederik Anderson made 23 stops to lead the Ducks to a 6–1 thrashing of the Flames in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal matchup on Thursday night.

Here are three thoughts in the wake of this thoroughly one-sided affair:

1. Ducks are flying high.

Eleven different Ducks found their way onto the scoresheet on Thursday night, suggesting a total team effort and a complete lack of rust after eight days of rest after their sweep of Winnipeg. But this one was decided early by the play of Anaheim’s top line and some quietly excellent defensive work.

2015 NHL playoffs: Ducks vs. Flames second round preview

Perry got off on the wrong foot, taking two pointless penalties before the game was eight minutes old, but that time spent in the sin bin allowed him to sharpen his focus. He got the cycle going that created Patrick Maroon’s game-winner 13:11 into the first period, then scored his first of the night two minutes into the second, walking out from behind the net and beating Jonas Hiller to the far side. He and Getzlaf followed that up with consecutive power play goals early in the third, taking advantage of defensive breakdowns to waltz in for uncontested chances. 

It was a dominant performance that highlighted the size and experience advantages that unit holds over Calgary’s invisible first line. There’s always time for adjustments after Game 1, but it is hard to imagine the Flames finding a way to bridge that gap. 

The blowout means that Andersen’s performance is likely to be overlooked, but he set the tone by stonewalling Josh Jooris on an early breakaway attempt, preventing the Flames from getting the icebreaker they desperately needed. After that, he was a study in calm efficiency, leaving nothing for the Flames to build on.

Andersen’s defensive corps deserves a stick tap as well for controlling the middle of the ice and and forcing the Flames to settle mostly for low-danger chances from up high or along the walls. What was most impressive about their effort was the lack of a late sag. It’s easy for a team that is buoyed by a significant lead to relax on its commitment. That never happened on Thursday night. Clearly Perry wasn’t the only one who was focused.

2. Ducks down low.

Nine feet. Ten feet. Eight feet. Twelve feet. Eleven feet. Nine feet. That tells you everything you need to know about how the Ducks won this game. Those are the official distances logged by the NHL for each of Anaheim’s goals, revealing how easily it was able to create and finish chances from down low.

You can look at each of those tallies and see the mental lapses by Calgary’s defenders that created time and space for Anaheim’s attackers, but this was more than a series of unforced errors. The Ducks claimed the low ground by dominating the Flames’ injury-riddled defense corps with their clear size and strength advantage. Their plan was simple: Dump the puck in deep, allow Calgary’s D to chase it down and then hammer the Flames without pity. You could see how quickly the hitting took a toll.

The trio of Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie and Kris Russell was able to soak up heavy ice against the Canucks, but the Ducks are playing a different kind of game. Without captain Mark Giordano (biceps), Calgary doesn’t have the depth to handle the kind of the punishment that Anaheim was ladling out on Thursday night.

3. Burn the tape.

As painful as they are, most playoff losses offer something of value. There are a few well-executed moments that can be reinforced while watching the video, or lessons to be gleaned from mistakes made by the opponent.

Yeah, not this time. The Flames were sandcastles fighting against the tide in this one. The end was as ugly as it was inevitable.

Revisiting our NHL playoffs crystal ball and looking ahead to Round 2

The Flames tried to impose their will physically, but quickly learned that Anaheim pushed back even harder. They tried to create offense in transition only to have the Ducks shut them down at their own blue line. And the one goal they scored, off the stick of Sam Bennett midway through the third, was created by a fluky carom off the skate of Ducks defender Francois Beauchemin. It was a nice finish by the kid, but counting on lucky bounces makes for a lousy game plan.

The beating wasn’t limited to the scoreboard, either. Michael Ferland, who became a cult hero in the opening round after punishing Vancouver’s defense with a relentless forecheck, looks to be lost indefinitely after suffering an apparent head injury. When he exited the game, so did Calgary’s chances to push back.

Jiri Hudler was also lost early in the second to an unknown ailment. The team’s leading scorer during the regular season was listed as day-to-day by coach Bob Hartley, but if he misses any action it would be devastating to Calgary’s chances.

Johnny Gaudreau sat out the third after being rocked head-first into the boards by a Nate Thompson cheap shot. Word was he was being rested, and that may be all there is to it. More likely though that Hartley didn't want to see him carried off on a stretcher. For all of Gaudreau’s talent, he’s still 5' 9" and listed at 150 pounds, and the Ducks were intent on burying him neck-deep in the muck. This game was just too big for him.

And then there’s the goaltending. Jonas Hiller didn’t get much help out there but his positioning was soft on the second and third tallies. If there was any advantage through familiarity in this matchup it went entirely to Anaheim’s attackers, who read his weaknesses like an open book. After allowing five goals on the last 17 shots he’s faced it’s hard to imagine that Hiller will see action again in this series.

The Flames have two days to get over this one. The smartest thing to do is burn the tape and move on.

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