After the third seed Calgary Flames upset one division rival in the Vancouver Canucks, their next task of defeating the Anaheim Ducks will be an even more impressive feat. Fortunately for the Flames they have five games’ worth of experience from the regular season they can use to re-familiarize themselves with the Ducks.
Although the regular season and the playoffs are two different animals altogether, the fact they faced each other five times during the season is an added bonus not all teams have. For the Flames’ sake, they’ll be hoping the playoff series ends up better than the season series did – a 3-2 edge for the Ducks, which also included a shootout win for the Flames.
If those five games are any indication, defence will likely take a back seat: three games ended in a 6-3 final – two of those in favour of Anaheim. Defence is typically much stronger and more prominent in the playoffs, but this series pits the sixth best scoring team in the Flames against the 11th best in the Ducks.
If there is any shot of either team’s offence being stymied it will be because of the ability of the goalies to stand on their heads – something they have shown the ability to do at various points this season. More than anyone else, Jonas Hiller should feel an extra jolt of motivation after a season in which he went 1-2 against his former team.
Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, had 35 wins for the Ducks (eighth in the league) to go along with a 2.38 GAA and .914 save percentage. After a phenomenal first four months of the season, Andersen struggled with consistency throughout February, March and April. That the team didn’t suffer is a credit to the young John Gibson who stepped in formidably. This is not a goaltending duo to mess around with.
And while the Flames proved they can get scoring from more than just Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler against the Canucks, to expect the same results against Anaheim would be impractical. That’s not to say an offensive outburst – and, ultimately, a series victory – for the Flames is completely out of the question.
But given the way the Ducks rolled over a Winnipeg Jets team that was one of the hottest in the league to finish the regular season, defeating Anaheim seems to be a tall task. (Let’s not forget the incredible atmosphere in Winnipeg for games three and four, which was just another obstacle for the Ducks to overcome.)
But if there’s a slogan for the second round the Flames are looking to adopt, it was provided by Matt Stajan in his on-ice interview following the first round, series-clinching victory. His comment that “it’s a fresh start” was a very mild-mannered, care free outlook on a series that – on paper, at least – seems so daunting.
And, yet, Stajan’s view is perhaps the best one for the Flames to take going into the series. It would be easy to count the Flames out or underestimate them based on the regular season, but this is a team that has persevered even when it looked as though the cards were very much stacked against them (young team, Mark Giordano’s injury, etc.).
It won’t be easy for the Flames. But then again, what has this season?