The Calgary Flames are gearing up to face the top team in the Western Conference and it should be a doozy of a series. The Anaheim Ducks have been hard to handle for the Flames: Calgary has lost 20 straight at the Honda Center. With the Ducks having home ice advantage, that could prove to be the rallying point for the series. It could also prove to be completely meaningless.
The latter could be true because of how difficult the Flames have been to put away. Their first round series with Vancouver proved that, as did their regular season play. They pick things up in the third period, as has been well-documented, and that could spell trouble for the Ducks no matter where the series takes place.
But here’s the thing: Calgary had 10 regular season wins when trailing after two periods. The Ducks had a dozen. Perhaps the only team more resilient than the Flames when it comes to third period heroics is found in Anaheim. At the daunted Honda Center. Where the Flames traditionally lose. That could spell trouble for this group after all.
One stat that stands out for the Flames is that they received 13 points from rookies in the first round. Sam Bennett and Michael Ferland were among the biggest factors for Calgary. 23-year-old Ferland had four points in six games, plus he was a powerful physical presence on the ice with 40 hits. Bennett, a fourth round pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, had three points – including two goals.
Calgary turned to their top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan when they could. Gaudreau had six points, including a power play goal, while Hudler also had six points including three goals. The top line had seven of the Flames’ 18 goals against Vancouver and the Canucks had a hard time shutting them down.
The key to Calgary’s offence appears to be the ability to score when necessary. While the top line can certainly get rolling, the Flames can and will get scoring from anywhere. Game One of the series against Vancouver was a testament to this. The Flames were down 1-0 in the third, but defenceman Kris Russell capped the comeback scored the eventual winner with under 30 seconds to go. Never say die.
No matter what the raucous Winnipeg fans chanted at him, Corey Perry was a firework in the first round. He got things done for his Ducks. He had two goals in Game One and had seven points total against the Jets including a game-winner. Ryan Getzlaf was also a factor, with four points and a plus-three rating in the series. He also saw a lot of ice time, averaging over 22 minutes a game.
And Ryan Kesler, the former Canuck, was on fire. He came up with five points against Winnipeg. He scored big goals in big moments. He won faceoffs. He was in the gritty, physical areas. He put up eight penalty minutes and just eight shots on goal, but he still scored three times. Kesler’s tenacity and his familiarity with the Flames should make this an interesting, hard-nosed series.
Jakob Silfverberg will head up the Ducks in terms of secondary scoring, which speaks to the depth of this hockey club. Silfverberg had the Game Two winner and came up with six points in six games. He had a deceptively quick shot and he’s a responsible player. Emerson Etem will also be out for more after a highlight reel marker that took him into the stratosphere for Game Four.
The pairing of Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman will once again draw the tough assignments, as they did against Vancouver. And they could once again excel, as they did against Vancouver. Russell had the game-winner in Game One, as noted, and could be counted on for an offensive flourish here and there. He averaged 27:06 a game, while his partner Wideman averaged 26:59. Plainly put, they’ll be everywhere against the Ducks’ top lines.
TJ Brodie and Deryk Engelland will also see serious ice time, with Brodie arguably the Flames’ most active player. He averaged 27:10 per game against the Canucks and was an effective pain in the butt. He also came up with four points and managed to play an effective containment game, which challenged the Vancouver forwards to make quick plays.
Hampus Lindholm and Francois Beauchemin lead the defensive charge for the Ducks. Beauchemin puts in about 23 minutes a game and that’s not likely to change as coach Bruce Boudreau opts for balance. He’s also opting to keep trade deadline acquisition James Wisniewski out of action again, at least until this defensive group proves it needs tinkering.
Cam Fowler and Simon Despres have proven that that moment may never come for Wisniewski. They’re a sturdy, tough second pairing and they don’t make many mistakes. Fowler had a goal and an assist on the series against Vancouver and he could be up for more points against Calgary, while Despres is a human hammer. Seriously.
Jonas Hiller will have an opportunity for a measure of revenge against his former team and he earned the starter job. Over six games, Hiller picked up three wins and posted a 2.20 goals against average with a .931 save percentage. Unfortunately, in Game Six Hiller looked shaky and the Flames went with Karri Ramo in relief. The 28-year-old Finnish netminder faced 21 shots in just under an hour, but he closed it out for the win.
Frederik Andersen exceeded expectations for the Ducks. He put up a 2.20 goals against average and a .924 save percentage over four games, facing 118 shots. It’s hard to argue the Jets got to him or forced him to make big saves, but he was there when needed. He could face a similar situation against the Flames and he’ll be ready for it.
The Ducks will need to press Hiller and they should be able to do that. They know his game well enough. The Ducks have the high-end talent to press the advantage, but the Flames are hard to put away. Calgary will have to win at the Honda Center, too, and that could prove daunting given history. But if any team can overcome the past at this point, it’s the Flames.