By advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks have done what most everyone expected. The Calgary Flames, their opponents in the Western Conference semifinals, weren’t even predicted to reach the postseason.
Anaheim earned the top seed in the Western Conference with 109 points, 12 more than Calgary, which had the fewest points of any playoff team. Logic would suggest the Ducks should be able to extinguish the Flames like they grounded the Winnipeg Jets in four straight games in the opening round. But the Flames showed their tenacity in the first round by overcoming a 3-0 deficit 10 minutes into Game 6 to close out the Vancouver Canucks with a 7-4 victory.
The Ducks and Flames have had one previous playoff meeting, in the first round in 2006. Calgary led that series 3-2 before losing the last two games, including Game 7 at home.
In five regular-season meetings this year, the Ducks had a 3-1-1 record and outscored the Flames 21-18.
Second-round preview: Blackhawks vs. Wild
Minnesota and Chicago have plenty of recent playoff history, but this version of the Wild poses an entirely different challenge for the Blackhawks.
During the regular season, the Ducks were 16th in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 51.2, while the Flames were 28th at 44.4 percent. The Flames, however, scored more goals: 2.89 per game, tied for seventh in the league. The Ducks were 11th with 2.78 goals per game.
The Ducks averaged 4.0 goals a game in the first round, and the Flames averaged 3.0.
Neither team was great when it came to goals-against average during the regular season. Calgary tied for 16th in the league, allowing 2.60 a game, and Anaheim was 20th at 2.70. Anaheim allowed 2.25 per game in the first round, and Calgary allowed 2.33.
The Flames had the better power play during the year, finishing 13th at 18.8 percent. Anaheim was 28th at 15.7 percent. The Ducks were better at killing penalties, finishing 15th at 81.0 percent, while the Flames were 20th at 80.6. Calgary was third in the league in fewest penalty minutes, averaging 7.6 a game. The Ducks were 25th at 10.8 minutes.
The power-play trends have continued in the playoffs. Calgary’s power play is 27.8 percent, just slightly ahead of Anaheim’s 27.3 percent. The Ducks have killed off 84.6 percent of their penalties, while the Flames are at 81.2 percent.
One thing the Flames do very well is block shots. Calgary led the league during the regular season with 1,557 blocks. Defenseman Kris Russell had the most of any player with 283, Dennis Wideman was sixth (184) and T.J. Brodie was eighth (178).
Anaheim’s top shot-blocker was defenseman Sami Vatanen, who was 58th with 123.
The Flames continue to dominate this category in the playoffs. Defenseman Deryk Engelland is leading the way so far with 29 blocks, one more than Russell.
Both teams have a never-say-die mentality.
The Ducks led the league in the regular season with a record of 12-23-0 when trailing after two periods. Calgary was third at 10-20-4. The Flames battled back for wins or to force overtime 14 times when trailing after two periods, and scored 99 third-period goals.
Both teams showed their resilience in the first round of the playoffs. The Ducks trailed after two periods in three of their four games against Winnipeg. They led for just 38:26 minutes total.
The Flames erased 3-0 and 4-3 deficits in Saturday’s win that eliminated Vancouver. In Game 1, Calgary trailed 1-0 heading into the third period before scoring the winning goal with less than 30 seconds remaining.
The Ducks want to shake off the label of underachievers. Anaheim was the second seed in the Western Conference in 2013 but lost in the first round, and was the top seed last year but lost in the second round.
The Flames are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and their win over Vancouver was their first series victory since 2004.
Both teams are big and physical. The Flames used a bruising forecheck to force the Canucks into turnovers while their defense blocked shots and controlled rebounds.
One player who will take this series personally is Flames goaltender Jonas Hiller. He spent seven seasons with the Ducks before finding himself the odd man out with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. Hiller signed with Calgary this season as a free agent. He was in net for three of Calgary’s four wins against Vancouver and allowed 12 goals on 118 shots in four games against the Ducks in the regular season.
Right winger Perry led the Ducks with 33 goals and was second on the team with 55 points in 67 regular-season games. His three goals and four assists lead the Ducks in the playoffs.
Calgary’s Gaudreau, a rookie of the year finalist, had 24 goals and was second on the team with 64 points during the regular season. While his linemates struggled early in the Vancouver series, Gaudreau managed at least a point in four of the six games, including a goal and two assists in the clincher.
Gritty center Kesler isn’t so much a secret, but he played a big role in the Ducks’ sweep of Winnipeg. Kesler scored the tying goal late in the third period of Game 3, then scored two goals, including the winner, in Game 4. He also dominated in the faceoff circle.
Before the playoffs, few people outside of Calgary knew who Michael Ferland was, but the big left winger made himself known in the Vancouver series. Ferland was fearless in hitting anything that moved. He finished the series with 67 hits and 10 blocked shots. He also had two goals, one a game winner, and a pair of assists.
The Flames go into this series as the underdogs with the feel-good story. They are riding the momentum of their victory over Vancouver, but reality will soon set in. The Ducks are rested after their sweep of Winnipeg. They have a deeper, more talented team than Calgary. Ducks in six.