For the first time since the 2008-09 season the Calgary Flames are taking part in playoff hockey. Their gift this year: The Vancouver Canucks, who finished a spot above them in the Pacific Division. Though it’s unlikely we’ll see anything like the line brawl from a season ago, the series shouldn’t lack in excitement, especially with how the two teams usually play each other.
No matter how exciting or fun it might be, the road to a series win for either team will no doubt be difficult. Regardless of how the two teams are positioned in the standings, it would be a mistake to discount Calgary’s chances of advancing.
Full disclosure: My pick is for the Flames to take the series in six games, and here are three ways the team can do just that:
Don’t be intimated
Take one look at the Canucks roster and it can seem a daunting task to defeat them in a playoff series: they have a deep lineup full of veterans with plenty of playoff experience – thanks to a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals four years ago – as well as a strong tandem in net (although each team has had its fair share of goaltending adversity lately). Still, the Flames can get the win in the series if they look past the obvious advantage the Canucks hold in terms of experience, and play them as they did in the regular season. After dropping the first two games in the season series, the Flames pulled off two wins to close it out with a 2-2 tie. The Flames also have a few weapons of their own in the way of playoff experience, namely Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks), Jiri Hudler (Detroit Red Wings) and Brandon Bollig (Chicago Blackhawks).
Stick to what works
This should be only natural for teams heading into the playoffs (why change what has worked for most of the season?), yet it’s often not the case. The Flames should take special care to change as little as possible from what they did in the regular season since, well, they weren’t even supposed to be in this situation anyway. For Calgary, that means continuing to make good use of the defencemen on offensive side of things; allowing Hudler, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau to continue to carry the load offensively; and, if Karri Ramo is healthy and Bob Hartley feels it’s the right thing to do, rotating goalies to get favourable matchups. They could, however, make a slight adjustment to their seemingly bullet proof winning formula: avoid having to come from behind in the final minutes of the game. That said, the Flames were one of the top scoring teams in the third period, so…
Ride the rookies
This could fit in with the section above of sticking with what has gotten the Flames into the post-season, given how successful the rookies have been, but they deserve their own mention. Gaudreau has been lights out on the team’s first line and has surpassed all expectations for his first season. Markus Granlund and Josh Jooris were excellent as call-ups – so much so that they stuck with the team for the better part of the season. And Michael Ferland didn’t get on the board often (he was in the lineup to be a physical presence), but he found a way to make his contributions timely. The point is the rookies have been just as important to the team’s success as such veterans as Lance Bouma, Mikael Backlund and Mason Raymond. To limit their ice time or reduce their role at this point would be counter-intuitive to the team’s success.