At times it was testy, and at times it was stressful, but in the end the Calgary Flames found a way to pull off the upset against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flames were expected to put up a heckuva fight, given the road they took just to get to the playoffs, but no one could have foreseen the way they would eventually win. One of the top scoring teams in the regular season, Calgary was expected to lean heavily on its dynamic offence to win games. But it was another source that unexpectedly provided a boost to the Flames.
Calgary’s physical play was considerably lacking during the regular season: Lance Bouma ranked seventh in the league with 264 hits, while Joe Colborne was next closest on the team, ranking 83rd with 158 hits. And yet it was exactly this aspect of the Flames’ game that helped earn them the series win.
Much of the credit can be given to 23-year-old rookie Michael Ferland, whose current situation is inspiring – considering his recent bout with alcoholism. The intimidating Ferland had only five points in 26 regular season games, but had 67 hits. He carried that mean streak into the playoffs and really made his presence felt – on Kevin Bieksa more than any other Canuck.
Ferland regularly threw his weight around – his 40 hits at the conclusion of the series were second only to Matt Martin of the New York Islanders – but the tension reached its climax in game three. Ferland was all over Bieksa throughout the game, the latter finally reaching his breaking point in the final minutes when he initiated a fight with the “irrelevant” Ferland.
So it was fitting that Ferland got some poetic justice in the finale by scoring the goal that started Calgary’s comeback from 3-0 down, then finishing the game off by potting Calgary’s seventh goal of the night. But make no mistake, while getting physical with the Canucks was a big part of the team’s success, the offence was still an important factor.
The Big Three – Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau – were held at bay for most of the series, then exploded for a combined 10 points in game six, led by Hudler’s four points. Even as the big line was kept in check early in the series, the Flames still found a way to win three games on the strength of their secondary scoring.
Timely contributions from David Jones, Joe Colborne and Matt Stajan (who scored the series clinching goal) helped lead the charge up front. On the back end, Kris Russell, TJ Brodie and Dennis Wideman each registered four points to help the cause (and help people forget about the absence of Mark Giordano, at least for now).
And who could forget the start young Sam Bennett had to the series mere weeks after being recalled from the Kingston Frontenacs? After suiting up for his first playoff game in game two, the young Bennett registered a goal each in game three and four. Though his effect wasn’t as evident in the box score later in the series, his play did not look like that of an 18-year-old with limited experience.
The goaltending came into question after a rocky start for Jonas Hiller – and Karri Ramo, for that matter – in game six, but given the results of the previous games there shouldn’t be much concern. For the Flames’ sake they’ll need their goalies to be at their best if they hope to defeat the Anaheim Ducks.
But at the moment the clock is still ticking on this Cinderella story.