THE FLAMES WIN IF…
…goalie Brian Elliott shows the form he did last season and toward the end of this one and the players in front of him use their speed and skill to make the Ducks look as though they’re standing still. There is a template for that kind of team having all kinds of playoff success. See Penguins, Pittsburgh. It is imperative that the Flames continually push the pace against the Ducks and keep them on their toes. Actually, if they do that, they might even be able to keep them on their heels. You want this team to have to defend as much as possible and you want to test its goaltending, whomever it chooses to start in net. Jonathan Bernier was outstanding down the stretch, but has had a checkered history to say the least. John Gibson was very solid this season, but might not have what it takes to usurp Elliott at his best.
Among playoff teams, only the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks allowed fewer shots on goal this season. And when it comes to offense, the Ducks have more high-end players, but the Flames have more scoring balance throughout the lineup, something that will help in the playoffs when star players tend to get shut down a little more. And with the emergence of Matthew Tkachuk and the acquisition of Troy Brouwer, the Flames are more equipped to deal with the physical aspect of the game than they have in years past.
THE DUCKS WIN IF…
…they simply take care of business on home ice. The Ducks have a 27-game winning streak against the Flames at the Honda Center dating back to the 2006 playoffs. During the final minutes of the Ducks 3-1 win over Calgary at home last week, fans broke out into a spontaneous chant of, “You can’t win here!” And they’re right. If that trend continues, it’s hard to believe the Flames would even extend the series very long. If they go back to Calgary with a 2-0 lead and split the two games in Calgary, the Ducks will be primed to close things out very quickly in the first round.
The way they do that is by being the imposing physical team that has been their hallmark the past couple of seasons. The matchup at center ice hugely favors them – with the twin Ryans, Getzlaf and Kesler, going nose-to-nose with Michael Backlund and Sean Monahan. As such, the Ducks have a huge advantage in the faceoff circle, since they’re the NHL’s best team on dots. That means they’ll be starting with the puck most of the time and that’s a tall order to defend when your opponent is as big and strong as the Ducks. There are few centers in the league who can create more offensive opportunities directly off the faceoff than Getzlaf.
Flames: Captain Mark Giordano missed the playoffs with an injury when they made it to the playoffs two years ago and hasn’t played a playoff game in almost 10 years. Adding a layer to Giordano’s presence is the fact that he’ll likely be Enemy No. 1 in Anaheim for his knee-on-knee hit on Cam Fowler that has knocked Anaheim’s best defenseman out of the series. Giordano is not a dirty player, but he’ll certainly be portrayed as that in Anaheim.
Ducks: It’s becoming abundantly clear that the deal the Ducks made to get Patrick Eaves from Dallas - a conditional second-rounder (which becomes a first-rounder if the Ducks advance to the Western Conference final and Eaves plays in at least half the games) – was the steal of the trade deadline. Eaves set career highs in every offensive category and thrived in Anaheim, giving them another veteran player who can provide offense, playing the right side of what has become a potent first line with Getzlaf at center and Rickard Rakell on the right side.
It’s a Selke showdown here as both Ryan Kesler and Mikael Backlund should get serious consideration for second and third (we all know who owns this award) after some terrific two-way seasons. The two were really similar this year in terms of scoring with the slight edge going to Kesler, though when it comes to puck possession Backlund was much better. That’s especially impressive because Kesler was pretty elite himself at nearly plus-14 relative shots per game, but Backlund was at nearly plus 21. Insane numbers and it’s why they’ve entrenched themselves as some of the game’s best two-way players. Keep in mind this is all against mostly top competition, too. When the two have gone head-to-head, goaltending hasn’t been kind to Kesler despite playing mostly even by shot attempts. Kesler has the name value so seeing Backlund stack up like this just goes to show how good the underrated Swede is. The two likely spend more time against the other team’s scoring line, so whichever one does the better job shutting them down could be the difference here. (Dom Luszczyszyn)
DUCKS in 5 games.