After winning a very hard fought, neck-and-neck series with the Canucks, the Flames are off to sunny California for a date with the Anaheim Ducks beginning on Thursday night (see playoff schedule here).
The Flames finished 2-3 in the regular season against the Ducks with both of their wins coming (of course) at the Scotiabank Saddledome. While many experts and fans of 29 other teams won't be giving the Flames much of a chance, there's a certain indescribable element that makes me believe the Flames could just win this series. With the odds as stacked against them as they are, here are five things that must happen for the Flames to have any shot at winning the series.
1. Can't have any down games for Hudreaunahan line
Most of the reason the Flames even made the playoffs at all this season was the scoring provided by top line. This line was the big reason the Flames finished tied for sixth in league scoring. Not bad considering the Flames' biggest question of the pre-season was how they would score.
However, this line admittedly had an off start to the first series, only registering seven combined points, all on the powerplay, through the first five games against Vancouver. Their 10 point Game 6 performance was clutch, but for the Flames to have a shot with the Ducks, they'll need that performance every game.
While the levels of play from the Backlund and Stajan lines were impressive, the Flames will live and die with how their first line handles a very good Ducks team.
2. Bottom defence pairing must take some minutes off of top four
Next, the Flames will be playing a very well rested team that has the ability to roll three solid defensive lines that can balance the ice time. Francois Beauchemin played the most minutes per game in the first round with an average of 23:33, while their third pairing of Clayton Stoner and Simon Despres contributed over 18 minutes.
This is almost a complete opposite of a Flames team where sixth defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon only played 3:16 of game six against the Canucks. One could argue that the Flames would've been able to roll three solid lines too prior to the Giordano and Diaz injuries, but they just don't have that luxury right now.
There may be a few overtime games in this series, and if the bottom pairing can't take some minutes off of the top four, then fatigue may set in by the end of the series against a faster, stronger, well rested Anaheim team, especially compared to Vancouver.
3. Continued Solid Goaltending
We've already written quite a few articles about Jonas Hiller and his solid goaltending in the first round. Despite being pulled in Game 6, he was great in the rest of the series, including almost stealing Game 5 from the Canucks where only a few Flames showed up. In the first five games of the series he had a .942 save percentage and a 1.84 GAA, which was very impressive. Hiller was definitely the best goalie out of the four that played in the series. He was also just anointed starter for Game 1 by Bob Hartley earlier this week and will be ready to push that bad game out of his head.
Not to mention of course that he'll be playing the team that cast him aside last off season and shattered his confidence in Anaheim. He now has this chance to stick it to his old team, and you just know he wants to. If not, Karri Ramo isn't a bad option to have waiting in the wings.
Either way, the goaltending battle will be interesting to watch as a rather inexperienced Frederik Andersen takes on Jonas HIller, who must be bent on vengeance. An interesting side note is that the away team outshot the home team by an average of 6.33 shots every game this season.
4. Gaining and Holding a Lead
It's already been well publicized that both teams have had a tremendous capability to stage a third period comeback with both teams at the top of the league in victories when down after two periods. Both teams had a comeback win over the other with Calgary coming back from down 2-0 to win 4-3 in a shootout, and Anaheim coming back from down 2-1 to win 6-3.
The difference is that Anaheim was also 30-0-2 when leading after two periods so if they get a lead, Calgary's chances of coming back are next to none. But hey, these Flames have been bucking trends all year, and were one of Anaheim's two losses. So why stop now? Just take care of business for the full 60 minutes and they won't have to worry about a comeback.
5. Winning a freaking game in Anaheim
To win the series, the Flames have to win an away game. In Anaheim. Easier said than done.
By now, every Flames fan is aware of the curse that's been on this team for 11 years and there's no hiding from it. After over a decade, you can't even say it's bad luck. There must be something in the water there or something. It doesn't matter, though; there's no way this Flames team buys into this curse at all. This exact team hasn't played in Anaheim over the past decade, just this season, so maybe they'll win this time.
Besides, the Flames won a playoff game there in 2006. They may have still lost the series, but we know a Flames win in Anaheim in the playoffs is definitely possible.
The last regular season win in Anaheim came in 2004, and hey, didn't something else super memorable also happen in 2004. It's a sign!
All these five things must happen for the Flames to have a shot at pulling off an upset against the mighty Anaheim Ducks (no pun intended). The Flames have been pulling off the unexpected all season in the face of doubters and haters. Why would they stop now? Game 1 on Thursday night! WATCH IT!!!