Regular season series recaps
Oct. 8:Canucks 4, Flames 2
Dec. 20:Canucks 3, Flames 2 (OT)
Jan. 10:Flames 1, Canucks 0
Feb. 14:Flames 3, Canucks 2
Flames: G Karri Ramo (lower body, day-to-day), D Raphael Diaz (lower body, day-to-day), C Paul Byron (lower body, day-to-day), D Mark Giordano (biceps, out for season), D Ladislav Smid (upper body, out for season)
Keys to a Canucks victory
Any discussion about Vancouver’s success during the last 10 years has to begin with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. At 34, the twin threats are still the engine of this team, having scored 71 and 74 points respectively this season, and they’ll lead the group again. But for Vancouver to make it past a rugged and energetic Flames team—and beyond—the Canucks will need to balance out their offense. That’s partly why rookie coach Willie Desjardins moved winger Radim Vrbata off the top line last month. Vrbata has helped resuscitate the stagnant Nick Bonino and Chris Higgins, who have combined for 13 points in their last nine games. Worst-case scenario: Put Vrbata back with the Sedins and let the magic happen there again. Where Vancouver could be most vulnerable is in net. Eddie Lack has been strong in the absence of Ryan Miller, who’s been out with a sprained knee since February. Miller is expected to be ready for the postseason, but his recent playoff history hasn’t been inspiring (2.70 GAA and .897 save percentage in six games for St. Louis last season). How Desjardins handles the net situation may be his biggest challenge in this first round.
Keys to a Flames victory
They’ve been proving doubters wrong at every turn. When they got off to a 17-8-2 start, few believed it would last. When they lost captain and leading scorer Mark Giordano, many wrote off their playoff chances. But a cadre of young players and their savvy coach Bob Hartley have taken the Flames back to the postseason for the first time since 2009. Calgary hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004, when it made it to the Cup finals. So to reverse that long drought, and continue to surprise the league, the Flames will first need to shed any feeling of satisfaction quickly. Good starts for Calgary have paid off all season. In games where the Flames are leading after the first period, they’ve gone 16-2-0. And they’ll need to exercise the discipline they’ve shown all season. They lead the league in fewest times shorthanded, which is good considering they also have the worst penalty kill (80.2%) among the Western Conference playoff teams. Their offense has been among the West’s best since the All-Star break, averaging 3.03 goals per game, thanks to the emergence of a lethal top line of wingers Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau and center Sean Monahan. Calgary will need to lean on that offense to overtake Vancouver.
This one is tough. The teams match up pretty well, but I think Vancouver’s depth and experience may be key. Calgary’s been so dependent on its top line to generate goals. Fifteen of the team’s last 35 have been scored by Hudler, Gaudreau or Monahan. And we often see that in a seven-game series, top lines can be muzzled. But I don’t expect the Flames to go softly. I’ll give this to Vancouver in seven.