The Flames were blown out of the water by Anaheim early in their second-round series, but recovered to make a real series out of it the rest of the way. Still, they were clearly outgunned by a deep Ducks squad and were eliminated Sunday in Game 5. Anaheim now plays Chicago in a Western Final for the ages.
Give the Flames credit for making their second-round series against Anaheim into an actual series. After the Ducks shellacked them in the first two games by a combined score of 9-1, Calgary won Game 3 and fought valiantly in a 4-2 Game 4 loss – and in Game 5 Sunday at Honda Center, they held a lead twice against the home team. But, led by their core of veteran stars and newer contributors such as Matt Beleskey, Anaheim was not going to be denied, tying the game early in the third period and winning 3-2 in overtime to eliminate the Flames in five games and move on to what promises to be a spectacular Western Conference Final against Chicago.
It’s not fair to say the Flames overachieved all season. You might use the word “overachieved” if they played well for a stretch of a week, or maybe a month or two. But this team did so much, you need to drop the “over” from overachieved and just focused on the amazing things they achieved: overcoming a so-so start in their first month, a December swoon and the loss of injured star defenseman Mark Giordano to knock (a) the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings out of a playoff spot, and (b) Vancouver out of the post-season in their first-round matchup.
That’s impressive, and Flames fans ought to be thrilled about the future of the franchise with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and T.J. Brodie in tow. Now, on to the less-than-good news: they were defeated by a clearly superior Ducks team that gave them a reality check as to what it takes to make it to the Western Final and beyond.
Anaheim dominated the Flames in possession and outshot them 47-19 on the night. That’s not a misprint. Calgary was held to five shots on Frederik Andersen in each of the final two regulation periods, were outshot 35-10 after the first period and didn’t register a shot on net in overtime. And the Flames had to block 27 shots, while Anaheim only had to block nine.
Calgary had no answer for a menace such as Perry, who overcame an injury scare in the second period to score the overtime winner and his seventh of the post-season. They had no equal for Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf, who didn’t have a point in Game 4 or 5, but piled up eight in the first three games of the second round and was a handful-and-a-half for their youngsters all series. They didn’t have an answer for Matt Beleskey, who scored again Sunday and had a goal in every game of the series. They didn’t have someone like Ryan Kesler, who handed them their behinds in the playoff circle (winning 18 of 22 draws in Game 5 for a whopping 82 percent success rate).
In short, the Flames got a glimpse of what they should want to be: a deep, experienced squad that can play keep-away with the puck until they get a glorious scoring opportunity. Calgary has a lot of talent to help them get there and showed a ton of guts making it this far, but all the indomitable spirit you can find won’t help you win rounds in this stage of the post-season. They need time and tweaks to move closer to a bona fide Stanley Cup frontrunner.
Meanwhile, the Ducks now are staring at their toughest opponent of the playoffs: the Hawks, who are just as talented, deep and experienced as they are. Perry and Getzlaf won’t have nearly as easy a time against Chicago defenders Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and Ducks defenders are going to be challenged every shift by elite players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. This is the series for which Anaheim acquired Kesler from Vancouver last summer, but it will not be solely on Kesler’s shoulders whether they win or lose. Only a collective surge will push them past Chicago. Anything less, and they’ll lose their first conference final appearance since they won the Cup in 2006-07.
Regardless, the sheer amount of talent that will be on display in the Western Final is impressive. There will be no talk of Cinderella teams in it. It’s the two best franchises in the conference – and very probably, in the NHL – and even the most cynical observer should be excited for it to get underway.