The Runner Sports

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Calgary Flames vs Anaheim Ducks

The Pacific Division-winning 46-23-13 Anaheim Ducks will play host to the 45-33-4 Calgary Flames, who return to the postseason after a disappointing hiatus in 2016, as part of a rare shutout for all Canadian clubs.

The two sides clashed five times this season, with the Ducks taking all but one contest. The bouts were typically tightly contested with the average goal differential coming at 2.6, although only two of five games had the winning team be victorious by more than 2 goals.

The Ducks look to break into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since they hoisted the cup in 2007. Anaheim has been here seven of the last nine years since, but have managed to make the conference finals only once. Plagued by a knack for let down Game 7s under Bruce Boudreau, Randy Carlyle looks to break the formula.

There might be some hostile blood as the two sides enter the series. The last time they met, a questionable knee-to-knee collision from Calgary’s Mark Giordano knocked Cam Fowler from the game – an injury that resulted in a sprained right knee, which Fowler will miss 2-6 weeks a result of. Blood was boiling as that game carried on, and you have to assume the fuse will be quite short in this series.

 

Offense

With four 20-goal scorers, the Ducks can spread the offensive weight pretty evenly compared to the lone Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund to earn that mark for Calgary. In all, five different Ducks players cracked the 50-point mark this season with Jakob Silfverberg just barely missing with 49; Calgary had four 50-point scorers, with Matthew Tkachuk narrowly coming up short with 48.

The Ducks forwards also owned the faceoff circle this season, nabbing a league-high 54.7% of contests at the dot. The Ducks have a physical group of forwards, and they don’t shy away from the in your face contact. The Ducks win a lot of key possession with the faceoff ability deriving from Ryan Getzlaf and Antoine Vermette, who won a combined 54.8% on 2805 faceoffs this season. Getting those wins in the offensive zone can lead to quick goals, and a result, Getzlaf finished 3rd in the league with 58 assists.

With a fully healthy defense, the Flames will unleash Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and rookie Matthew Tkachuk. Where the Ducks have the higher scoring output, the Flames can boast about the 12 10-goal scorers they feature.

 

Defense

Just two teams in the league, and not a single in the Western Conference, let in fewer goals than the Anaheim Ducks this season at 197, which equates to 2.40 per game. It’s certainly a different looking beast to tackle sans Fowler, but they demonstrated they can still operate in his absence. The Ducks won both of their final games without Fowler, including a shutout against the limited roster the Chicago Blackhawks put forth.

Calgary will meanwhile be rejoiced to have the villain of the series, most likely, in Mark Giordano, who missed all of the playoffs in 2015. Paired with Dougie Hamilton, the Flames’ top line pairing were a top 15 defensive pairing all season long. The Flames like to suffocate play before the puck can ever reach the net. Just four playoff teams allowed fewer shots this season, as the Flames saw just 28.7 per game. Anaheim narrowly lagged behind with 29.6 per contest.

 

Goaltending

Brian Elliot’s jump to the pacific northwest was less than harmonious to start the year. By the middle of December, Elliott had won just three games in comparison to the 11 dropped. Elliott was far from the sole reason for this struggle, but thankfully, ended up finding his groove come the flip of the calendar. From February 1 to the end of the season, Elliott posted a 17-8 record, at one point stringing together 11 straight wins. He wrapped the season with a .910 save percentage and 2.55 GAA.

His backup, Chad Johnson, about as equally impressive this season, posting a .910 and 2.59 GAA, and proved to be the anchor of the team as Elliott got back into his groove.

John Gibson has had his share of shortfalling, specifically in the playoffs, but has been a very serviceable goaltender for the Ducks’ above average defense. He ended the year going 25-16-9 with a .924 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. He let in 3.08 GAA in the playoffs last year, and will need to avoid having another rise in those figures.

 

Special Teams

Calgary got it done on the power play this season, converting 20.2% of chances. Anaheim finishing outside the top half of the league, converting 18.7% of the time. The top power play unit for the Flames netted 18 goals to the Ducks’ top unit of 16.

The Ducks take the advantage on the kill, where they knocked off 84.7% of man-down situations in comparison to Calgary’s 81.6%.

 

Flames win if…

As the lower-seeded¬†team it goes without saying that winning a game, at the very least, on the road is a must, so you probably wouldn’t think I’ll be daft enough to mention that as a key here, right? Well, wrong. The Flames are winless in the last 25 regular season contests at Honda Center dating back to 2004. Simply put, they’ll have to end that drought if they’re going to manage a way to get through this series. They were winless on the road the last time the two met in the playoffs in 2015. Their last win on the road there came in Game 3 of their opening round series in 2006 in a 5-2 win; a series they ultimately lost in Game 7…which came on the road.

Ducks win if…

They own home-ice. As mentioned, the Flames have been anything but fire worthy when it comes to playing at the Honda Center. Protecting home ice is literally all this team has to do to see the next round of play. It might also be a nice way to break any Game 7 jitters should the series go the length after being eliminated in each of the four postseasons in Game 7 at home. It’s pretty simple.

 

Prediction

The Ducks need a Game 7 win in the worst of ways and what better way to get that than top a team who hasn’t beaten you at home in 27 games? This series could get bloody and scary, so if you’re into that, grab your popcorn; if not, avert your eyes and those of young children. It’ll be a well-fought series. The Flames should find some sovereignty at home, and knowing they have a tough fight getting that road win ahead, do well to ensure they don’t end this series any earlier by dropping one at home. At the end of the day, the Ducks’ staunch defense and experienced goal scorers make the difference and they can finally breathe a sigh of relief whenever they hear Game 7 instead of entering a deep anxiety riddled meltdown.

Ducks in 7

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold