The Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames both missed the playoffs last season, making up two of the seven teams in the post-season this year that were not part of the discussion last year. The Flames haven’t seen the post-season since 2008-2009 and haven’t won a series since 2004. They rode the wave all the way to the Final, where they lost to Tampa. The Canucks, meanwhile, missed the playoffs last season for the first time in five consecutive seasons.
Both the Canucks and Flames have provided a degree of stress to their respective fans during the regular season and that will unquestionably carry on through the playoffs. They led the NHL in wins in games when giving up the first goal, while the Flames took home about 25 percent of their points in games where they were losing after two periods.
Calgary certainly has to be seen as an underdog here, but that may not be a bad thing. They’ll ride the wave of momentum that saw them eliminate the Kings from playoff contention. The Canucks seem more prepared than ever and have been waiting for another crack at the post-season ever since last year’s debacle.
Despite enduring some rather idiotic nicknames, Henrik and Daniel Sedin have led the Vancouver Canucks for most of the past decade and will continue to do so in this playoff run. They are among the most dangerous players in the NHL, running a puck possession game that is incomparable. Entire shifts have been magical to watch, as they protect the puck like no other player(s) in the league. And they put up serious points, with Daniel amassing 76 in 82 games and Henrik popping in 73 in the same time span.
After the Sedins, there’s a lot of balance in Vancouver. They have 11 forwards with at least 10 goals, with Radim Vrbata leading the way with 31. He was paired with the Sedins for a great deal of the year, putting shots on goal (267) and generating offence. Alex Burrows also saw time with the Sedins, as usual, and he managed 18 goals in 70 games.
There’s also the play of Bo Horvat, who has been rolling since the All-Star break and should continue to do so in the playoffs. He’s young and untested, sure, but he’s also maturing quickly and can put the biscuit in the basket. 10 of his 13 goals have come since the break and he’s been taking on the opposition’s top players. Look for more of the season in the post-season.
Amazingly, the Flames have been offensively gifted this season. They put up 237 goals, with the line of Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau coming up with 86 of them. Hudler in particular had a great year, with 76 points in 78 games. He had 31 goals. Same goes for Monahan, who had 31 goals in 81 games and came up with 62 points on the year.
Calgary also saw offence from some surprising places, like Lance Bouma. The 25-year-old Albertan put in work, landing 34 points in 78 games. He’s been part of the nucleus of the Flames, which has generally involved some solid two-way players and a dash of offensive firepower. For the most part, Calgary’s put a cohesive forward unit on the ice and has shared the wealth.
30-year-old David Jones has been a factor, for instance. The winger has 30 points in 67 games. He’s played with Bouma and centre Mikael Backlund, forming a good shutdown group for bits and pieces of the year.
It’s hard to argue that Vancouver had a great year from a defensive perspective. They were hit by serious injuries in the first part of the year and they’ve coughed up quite a few goals against, which doesn’t bode well. Luckily, they’ve got a healthy top six going into the post-season and they’ve got an experience edge over the Flames. That could count for a lot.
Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev have been the top pair, with Edler rounding out nicely with 31 points in 74 games. Tanev has been solid and should have a chance to shine in the playoffs, while Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Weber will comprise the second pairing. Weber in particular should turn some heads, with his defensive play among the best on the team.
The Flames will have to make do without Mark Giordano and that leaves a major hole. They’ve luckily been able to hold the fort by relying on the likes of Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, who’ve been munching minutes since February. Wideman put up 56 points in 80 games and has been sturdy at both ends of the ice, while Russell has had 34 points in 79 games. Russell has also been a powerhouse in blocked shots with an NHL record 283.
Deryk Engelland has also been called on for more. He’s been playing with TJ Brodie and has anchored the pairing, allowing Brodie to put up a career high in points with 41 in 81 games. The Flames will have to cope with the loss of Raphael Diaz to injury, which should mean the appearance of either Corey Potter or Tyler Wotherspoon.
For the Canucks, it comes to down to Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack. There is no clear starter at this point, but most signs are pointing to Lack because Miller is ostensibly still injured. This hasn’t been officially declared by the team, even though Lack says he knows who is starting and Miller isn’t quite ready to go yet.
Miller is the better goalie and he has a fair deal of playoff experience, but he might be rusty if he makes it back between the pipes. Lack has never had an NHL playoff start, but he’s a rabid fan favourite and everyone in the city loves him. If a goalie could get by on personality alone, he’d be on his way to the Cup already. But as it is, his numbers are average with a 2.45 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
As for the Flames, it’s probably up to Jonas Hiller. He has 26 playoff games under his belt and boasts a 2.36 goals against average on the year. Backup goalie Karri Ramo is out of the picture with an injury, which puts Joni Ortio in the game. In other words, it’s all on Hiller at this point. For better or worse.
This is probably one of those rare playoff matchups where it’s not about goaltending. While we’re likely to see a Lack/Hiller showdown, most of the action will understandably be driven by who controls the puck. And with the Sedins running the show, it’s up to the Flames to bring some roughness and physicality if they hope to crack things open.