The Cinderella Calgary Flames are off to the second round, but their biggest test is sitting right before their eyes. The conference champion Anaheim Ducks are coming off a sweep of the Winnipeg Jets and have a lot of demons to vanquish. They are coached by Bruce Boudreau, who has over a .600 winning percentage with Anaheim, and his former team the Capitals, but has failed to win a Stanley cup despite coaching players like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Alexander Ovechkin.
The Flames eliminated the Canucks with skill, speed and agitation; which were the methods used by the Los Angeles Kings in their two Stanley Cup victories, but the task ahead of the Flames is rough considering their inability to win in Anaheim.
The Flames top line center Sean Monahan was just nine-years-old when the Flames last beat Anaheim in the road. In that time, Calgary has gone 0-15-5. With Anaheim having the home ice advantage, Calgary must win at least one game on the road, and sweep home ice if they have a chance at winning the series. Even more worrisome, since Anaheim entered the N.H.L in 1993, Calgary has beaten Anaheim just eight times in road games.
In their first round sweep of the Jets, Anaheim became the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive playoff games after trailing in the third period. Their 18 third period victories set an NHL record, but the Flames and their fans can see solace in that statistic considering the Flames finished third in the league in third period comebacks.
Beyond learning to win in Anaheim, the key to a Calgary series victory is offense. As a team, Calgary scored five more goals than Anaheim this year and ranked higher in goal differential. In the playoffs, offensive and defensive statistic are also close; with Anaheim averaging one goal more per game, while giving up .08 less goals per game, so in terms of offense, the teams are pretty even.
The key factor in the series will be maintaining leads and staying out of the penalty box. The Flames have the league’s second best powerplay in the post season at 27.8 percent, .5 points above Anaheim. Although Calgary has the better powerplay, Anaheim’s penalty kill is more than three points higher than their opponents. Anaheim drew key penalties against Winnipeg, which sapped any momentum the Jets had. The team who agitates their opponent with more efficiency will win the series. Whether it is Ryan Kelser for the Ducks, or Michael Ferland for the Flames; whoever can draw the most penalties will help their team move on.
With the factors above being key to a series victory, like all playoff rounds, goaltending will win or lose this series.
After being confined to the press box in last years’ playoffs, Jonas Hiller landed in Calgary, motivated to prove Anaheim unjustly pushed him out. Leading the Flames to the Conference Final while simultaneously sending the Ducks home earlier than they want to, would give Hiller extra satisfaction. Although he was pulled early in game 6, by Flames coach Bob Hartley; after giving up two goals on three shots, Hartley will be going to Hiller to start the series, and nothing would satisfy the Swiss goaltender more than showing up his former team.
At the other end is Frederik Andersen who had a .924 SV% in the first round, with a 2.20 GAA; solid numbers that show Andersen was never a liability in any of the games Anaheim played in the first round, but his numbers against the playoffs leave a huge question mark. As The Hockey News noted, although he has never lost to the Flames in regulation in five career meetings, he has given up 14 goals and has a .890 save percentage to go along with a 2.87 goals-against average.
This series is about a young upstart team playing like only fun matters, and an opponent with big, skilled veterans who want to become the big dog in the yard. Despite the disparity in the standings, both teams are evenly matched due to their style of play, and the ability of all four lines being able to contribute so far in the post season. However; Calgary doesn’t have a Perry or a Getzlaf, or as much Stanley Cup experience as the Ducks, and the hockey world is not giving them much of a chance. Either way, this series could end up being the best matchup of round two, as David meets Goliath with the world believing the Flames don’t have much of a chance to get four wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.