USATSI_9997494_154158418_lowresThe Calgary Flames find themselves back in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and the first under head coach Greg Gulutzan. They’ll meet the Anaheim Ducks, who won the Pacific Division again but will be looking to move past the conference final for the first time since winning it all in 2007.

The Ducks went 46-23-13 for 105 points in the regular season. They took the edge in the season series against the Flames, but things can change in an instant in the post-season. That said, Anaheim tends to batter Calgary at the Honda Center. The Flames are 0-20-5 in Anaheim and haven’t won there since January of 2004.

Calgary snagged the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, with a 45-33-4 record. They last met the Ducks in the post-season in 2015, where they lost four games to one.

The last time the Flames met the Ducks, it was ugly. The April 4th game saw Mark Giordano knock Cam Fowler out of the contest with a knee-on-knee hit. Fowler was out two to six weeks with a right knee sprain and emotions bubbled over, to say the least. Will things boil over again? It seems likely.

Offence

Things will be physical and defence will be tight, but Anaheim will have to come up with some goals if they want to win. Winger Richard Rakell had 33 goals in the regular season for a total of 51 points in 71 games. He averaged 17:23 of ice time a game and gives the Ducks a versatile presence up front.

26-year-old Jakob Silfverberg is another goal-scorer. He had 23 goals in the regular season and averaged 18:29 of ice time a game, demonstrating a superior two-way ability that fits well with Anaheim’s game plan. He’s defensively sound and kills penalties, even if he’s a bit streaky when it comes to scoring.

Corey Perry continues to drive the action. He had 19 goals in the regular season and averaged 17:42 of ice time a game, but he holds on to the puck and is a great asset when it comes to possession. Perry is still prone to taking poor penalties, but Anaheim’s kill has made the right adjustments.

Ryan Getzlaf had 73 points in 74 games. He averaged 21:04 of ice time a game in the regular season and can play physical hockey, which will be a factor against the Flames. Ryan Kesler also has some sandpaper. He’ll need it against Calgary. He had 22 goals in the regular season and averaged 21:18 of ice time a game. And Patrick Eaves is expected to be in the lineup for Game One, so that’s a plus.

The Flames had a dozen goal-scorers in double-digits in the regular season, starting with Sean Monahan’s 27 goals. The 22-year-old had a total of 58 points in 82 games and averaged 17:34 of ice time a game. He can make things happen down the middle, which subsequently makes his teammates better.

Johnny Gaudreau leads the team in points with 61 in 72 regular season games. He averaged 18:29 of ice time a game and managed 182 shots on goal, averaging 0.85 points per game. He had four goals on the man-advantage and three game-winners. Gaudreau is a huge part of the Calgary resurgence.

Rookie Matthew Tkachuk had 48 points in 76 games, including 13 goals. He averaged 14:39 of ice time a game and had 142 shots on goal. The 19-year-old crowds out the crease, which should give Anaheim’s defence something to think about.

Centre Mikael Backlund had 53 points in 81 games, including 22 goals. The 28-year-old Swede averaged 17:36 of ice time a game and registered nearly 200 shots on goal. He’s a playmaker, plus he can skate in special teams situations. Michael Frolik had 44 points in 82 games, including 17 goals, and he’ll be ready to play his solid two-way game against the Ducks.

Defence

The Ducks have one of the best defensive groups in the NHL. They allowed just 197 goals against in the regular season, third fewest in the NHL. Hampus Lindholm is a big piece of the puzzle, averaging 22:26 of ice time a game and playing in all game situations.

25-year-old Sami Vatanen averages 21:39 of ice time a game and can move the puck. He’s also a good power play quarterback and had 24 points in 71 games in the regular season. Size is an issue for the Finnish defenceman.

Josh Manson is another daunting shutdown defenceman. He averages 18:37 of ice time a game and had 17 points in the regular season. He’s a physical and reliable skater. Kevin Bieksa brings a veteran presence to the Ducks. He averages 18:45 of ice time a game and had 14 points in the regular season, plus he knows how to rattle opponents.

The Flames have been able to protect the lead. They went 23-4-1 when leading after the first period and were an NHL-best 33-0-1 when holding a lead into the third. Their defence has a lot to do with that, with 26-year-old T.J. Brodie an integral component. The Ontario native had 36 points in 82 games and averaged 23:34 of ice time a game.

Dougie Hamilton had a blistering year, with 50 points in 81 games. He averaged 19:41 of ice time a game and clocked in 222 shots on goal. He has a big point shot and can quarterback the power play, even if his physical play is somewhat lacking.

Mark Giordano had 39 points in 81 games and averaged 23:34 of ice time a game. He’s one of the best skaters on the team and leads the way with a never-say-die attitude. 26-year-old Michael Stone had 15 points and averaged 19:49 of ice time a game. He can play physical hockey, plus he has a sturdy point shot.

Goaltending

Ducks goalie John Gibson went 25-16-9 in the regular season, with a 2.22 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. The 23-year-old had six shutouts and plenty of talent, but he’s still learning the tendencies of the opposition and will get an education against the Flames.

Jonathan Bernier is in the conversation. He went 21-7-4 in the regular season, with a goals against average of 2.50 and a save percentage of .915. He had two shutouts and is seldom out of position. The 28-year-old was 10-1-2 in March and is playing for a new contract, which means he’ll be ready for the show if the spotlight falls to him.

Brian Elliott has given the Flames a chance to win every single game. The 32-year-old went 26-18-3, with a 2.55 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. He had two shutouts and knows his angles. He covers a lot of the net and plays a mature game.

Backup Chad Johnson won’t dress for Game One, but he did travel with the team. Jon Gillies will play backup for the first outing in the series. The 23-year-old won his only game this season, allowing one goal and finishing with a .964 save percentage. At 6’6, 235 pounds, Gillies is a huge netminder.

Who Will Win

The Ducks have the experience edge and play a physical game, but the Flames can throw down. Calgary was first overall in minor penalties in 2016-2017, while Anaheim was second. That suggests a level of grit that should indeed be a factor when they lock horns.

If it comes down to penalties, the Ducks have the edge with a stellar penalty kill. Kesler has transformed their ability to deal with the man-advantage. And Anaheim is tops in hitting, second only to the Los Angeles Kings in the regular season.

My call: Anaheim in six.

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