NHL playoff series preview: If the Calgary Flames are to have any hope they must find a way to beat the Ducks in Anaheim.
Nov. 25: Ducks 3, Flames 2
Jan. 21: Ducks 6, Flames 3
Feb. 20: Ducks 6, Flames 3
Mar. 11: Flames 6, Ducks 3
Flames: D Mark Giordano (torn biceps, out for season); D Raphael Diaz (undisclosed, day-to-day); D Ladislav Smid (neck, out for season); F Lance Bouma (upper body, day-to-day); F Paul Byron (lower body, day-to-day)
Keys to a Ducks victory
Despite what you might hear elsewhere, including from the Ducks themselves, their first-round elimination of the Jets was exactly as easy as the sweep suggests. Whatever pushback Winnipeg offered, Anaheim was able to answer thanks to its depth, physical play and a steady performance in net by Frederik Andersen. They’ll rely on those elements again against the Flames.
The Big Three of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler asserted themselves at various points of that first round series, but secondary scoring was the difference maker. Rickard Rakell, Emerson Etem and Jakub Silfverberg each contributed a game-changing goal. They’ll be counted on to deliver again in this round. Andrew Cogliano could be an X-factor. His speed gave the Jets’ defense fits. Look for him to challenge the Flames for space in the middle of the ice, especially on the penalty kill.
The Ducks were among the NHL’s worst teams on the power play this season, ranking 28th overall with a miserable conversion rate of just 15.7%. They turned that around against the Jets though, going 3-for-11 for a 27.3% success rate. If they can avoid regression, they could use the man advantage to turn the series in their favor.
So could their ability to capitalize on giveaways. Just two teams coughed up the puck more often than the Flames (600 times) during the regular season. If the Ducks can create opportunities in transition out of Calgary’s carelessness, they’ll have a distinct edge in possession.
The defense, led by Francois Beauchemin (team-high 23:33 per game), Sami Vatanen (two power play goals) and the surprisingly steady Simon Despres, gives Anaheim a distinct edge over Calgary’s injury-riddled unit. It’s been so solid through the first four games that veteran James Wisniewski hasn’t been able to crack the lineup. He might not see action in this round either if they continue to play at the same level.
Andersen isn’t the goalie you want to watch while rocking the baby to sleep, but give him credit for his performance against the Jets. Four straight wins, a save percentage above .925 in three of his starts, and just seven even-strength goals allowed. More important, he was able to avoid the mental lapses that have gotten him pulled in the past. Going up against his former partner will test that resolve. He has to stay focused to win this duel.
Keys to a Flames victory
This one’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? As the lower-seeded team, the Flames need to take care of business at the Saddledome and win at least one game on the road to advance. Unfortunately, that might pose a problem. Calgary hasn’t beaten the Ducks on their home pond since 2004, a span of 20 games (0-15-5). Just two of those losses were accrued this season, but you get the point. There’s some kind of crazy Kryptonite mojo to this building, and if the Flames can’t work their way around it, this is going to be a short series.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be over quickly. By a number of measures the Flames stack up pretty well against the Ducks. During the regular season Calgary was better on the power play (18.8% to 15.7%), stingier between the pipes (2.60 GAA to 2.70) and scored more frequently (2.89 goals to 2.78). The Flames may be underdogs, but those numbers suggest they aren’t as overmatched as some might think.
But as with any underdog, Calgary’s best hope for an upset is through a superlative goaltending performance. Jonas Hiller should be highly motivated to upstage Andersen, the man who stole his job, and send his former teammates packing for the summer. He knows them and their habits well, and needs to use that to his advantage. It’ll help if his defense remains committed to blocking shots. The Flames disrupted 133 Vancouver bids in the first round, third most in the league. The Ducks averaged 34.5 shots per game against the Jets. Diminishing that total one way or another is critical.
As a team, the Flames did a solid job of minimizing the Sedins (3-5-8) and neutralizing Vancouver’s second line. The challenge grows in this round as they take on a top line that has feasted on them through the years. No one’s expecting them to shut down Perry and Getzlaf, but if they can limit them to one or two big games, the Flames have a chance.
Calgary will need another big series from their fab freshmen. Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett and Michael Ferland chipped in 13 points between them in the first round. They must have a similar impact this time around. And speaking of impact, they’ll need to match the intensity of Anaheim’s physical game. Ferland, who ranked second in the league with 40 first round hits, needs to set the tone early.
In the first round, both of these teams enhanced their reputations for resilience. Anaheim staged three third-period comebacks in its sweep of the Jets. The Flames did it twice against the Canucks. That’s a reminder that no lead should be taken for granted in this series. Calgary’s lunch pail gang has plenty of heart, but they just don’t have the talent to outlast the deeper, more experienced Anaheim squad. Ducks in 5.
Ducks 6, Flames 1
Ducks 3, Flames 0
Flames 4, Ducks 3 (OT)
Ducks 4, Flames 2
Ducks 3, Flames 2 (OT)