Monday May 4th, 2015

An early goal from Matt Beleskey and 30 saves by Frederik Andersen led the Anaheim Ducks to a 3–0 victory over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night. The Ducks, who now have a 2-0 series lead, became just the second team to open the playoffs with six straight wins in the salary cap era.

Anaheim dominated the first period and looked ready to roll up its second consecutive rout, but the Ducks were repeatedly stymied by Karri Ramo, who as making his first career playoff start in place of Jonas Hiller, who was pulled in Calgary’s 6–1 loss Game 1. The 28-year-old Ramo ended up making 31 saves, several of them spectacular, in a losing cause but earned third star of the game honors.

Hampus Lindholm and Nate Thompson’s empty netter, sealed the win for Anaheim in the third period.

Here are three thoughts on the match:

1. The Ducks are ruling the ice.

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It looked for awhile there like the score on Sunday night would be even more lopsided than it was in Game 1. Anaheim’s top stars made another good showing, setting the tone with their speed and creating chances off the rush instead of relying on their size and strength to dominate down low. Ryan Kesler had a beautiful chance early, rifling a wrister that beat Ramo before ringing off the post, but he made amends not long after by setting up Beleseky with a brilliant cross-crease pass to finish off a two-on-one chance. 

Kesler’s effort was matched by Ryan Getzlaf (two assists). Alternately relying on finesse, speed and brute strength, the two centers controlled the middle of the ice and created chances almost at will. Through two games, they’ve delivered everything that’s been asked of them.

But as good as they were, those giants might have been overshadowed by the play of Anaheim’s young defense corps. It was Lindholm who iced the game midway through the third, joining the rush in time to rifle a wrister past a Corey Perry screen and by Ramo. It was the seventh point scored by an Anaheim blueliner thus far in the series, maintaing the pace they set while combining for 14 in the Ducks’ first-round sweep of the Jets. Lindholm was group’s standout on Sunday with his aggressive efforts leading the offense in transition along with some outstanding work neutralizing Calgary’s zone entries. But Cam Fowler and Simon Despres were strong as well, combining to go +15 in shot attempts. Along with Sami Vatanen, their young legs are making a difference in this series.

• Complete Game 2 recap | box score

2. Better late than never.

Despite their vows to open Game 2 with a vengeance, the Flames might have looked even worse in the first period of this contest than they did at any point of Game 1. That their mistake-filled start didn’t immediately rip this contest out of their hands was the fortunate byproduct of some excellent goaltending from Ramo and a few lucky bounces (the goalpost to the left of the Calgary keeper was still ringing five minutes after Kesler’s first period shot slammed into it).

Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf help Ducks overpower Flames in Game 1 win

But the Flames did what the Flames do. They hung around and hung around just long enough to get themselves back into the game. They never managed to dent Andersen (more on that in a moment), but they did get their feet under them in a solid second period, to the point that they played the Ducks evenly for the first time in the series. In the third they took it a step further, actually carrying the better part of the play. They spent time with possession in the offensive zone and finally got their forecheck out of storage. It wasn’t a win, but there was enough promise to suggest that they can make a series of this with the next two games slated for the Saddledome.

That said, they need to test Andersen more frequently, and with higher quality shots, if they’re going reel this thing in. Outside of a pair of chances created off of turnovers by Nate Thompson and Francois Beauchemin, the Flames didn”t generate much on their own until late in the third. If they’re going to be shut out, they at least need to make Andersen earn it.

3. Calgary’s top three needs to pay the price.

It’s tough for a seventh seed to knock off a one under the best of circumstances, but it’s pretty much impossible if the underdog doesn’t have its top guns blazing.

Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler were non-factors for the second game in a row. Their contribution on Sunday night: one shot apiece from Monahan and Gaudreau (both landed in the third period) and none from Hudler. And that’s the highlight. The trio was also a combined –2 with four penalty minutes and –10 on shot attempts.

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It’s not that coach Bob Hartley didn’t try to shake things up. After benching Gaudreau in the third period of Game 1 to basically save him from being destroyed, Hartley tried to get the diminutive rookie away from the heavy checking by hiding him on Mikael Backlund’s line. The move did more to marginalize than protect him.

As in the opener, Gaudreau just couldn’t find the space he needs to make something happen. Although he ended up with just two official giveaways, he made several poor decisions with the puck that forced him to extend his shifts (one second period stretch topped two minutes) and led him to spend too much time in the defensive zone. That’s not where Gaudreau makes a positive impact on the game.

After trying everyone but Hiller on the left wing, Hartley moved Gaudreau back to his usual spot late in the game. By that point though it was too late. Another night, another no-show performance, another loss.

It’s likely that Hartley will reunite the trio to start the next contest. He’ll also try to use the advantage of last change that he’ll have in Games 3 and 4 to minimize the time that unit has to spend dealing with Kesler’s line. Beyond that though, it’s up to those guys to fight through the grind, prove they’re not as intimidated as they look, and find a way to contribute. That’s just the price of admission at this time of year.

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