Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our continuing coverage here at FlamesNation of the best time of the year, the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Both we and our fine colleagues at Canucks Army will be all over the next 14 days of ice hockey between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, and we thank you in advance for checking it out.
To be blunt, this match-up is probably the best-case scenario for both sides.
Moreso than basically any other opponent, this is a winnable series for each team. Neither team has a cut-and-dry number-one goalie, but both have a strong top line and a bunch of young stars that are emerging and improving. Calgary is also gutted with injuries right now – including missing three regular defensemen – and will have to rely on their top line and their attacking defense for goals. The big question is whether they can maintain their break-neck style of play over a seven-game series against the same opponent.
The puck drops just after 8pm MT on CBC (with Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson, with Scott Oake) and Sportsnet 960 The Fan (with Derek Wills and Peter Loubardias, with our pal Pat Steinberg).
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Jonas Hiller was Calgary’s most frequent starter in the regular season, and with Karri Ramo just coming back from a lower body injury, Hiller seems like the most likely guy to start Game 1. Presumably if Ramo dresses for tonight’s game, Joni Ortio will be returned to the AHL as his emergency recall will be done. Hiller made 44 starts in the regular season (and 8 relief appearances), going 26-19-4 with a 2.36 goals against average, .918 save percentage and .927 even-strength save percentage.
Projected extra bodies for tonight: Mason Raymond, who skated as an extra body this week but could slot in, along with Drew Shore and Tyler Wotherspoon. Paul Byron skated yesterday in a non-contact jersey and is said to be close. Lance Bouma, Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid and Raphael Diaz are all out, though the captain recently began skating.
It sure looked like Sam Bennett will jump in for Raymond based on line rushes at two days of practice. If he can stay as energetic as he was against Winnipeg, he could be an asset. The key for Hartley’s forward groupings appears to be balance behind the top line (though it may mean having one good line and three so-so ones), while the defensive group remains incredibly top-heavy, with the top four anticipated to be ridden heavily. Expect Corey Potter to play maybe four minutes, and for the Sedins to see a lot of the top four grouping all game long.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
As of this writing, there was no confirmation of who’s starting, Eddie Lack or Ryan Miller. However, Lack started most frequently (and most successfully) down the stretch, so he seems the most likely starter. Lack went 18-13-4 with a 2.45 goals against average, .921 save percentage and .922 even-strength save percentage in 35 starts. He is, statistically, to Miller what Hiller is to Ramo – slightly superior based on the numbers and probably the goalie the Canucks should be riding in the post-season. Whether Willie Desjardins does so is yet to be determined.
The extras for the Canucks right now are Ryan Stanton, Brandon McMillan and Linden Vey. Zack Kassian is the lone significant injury, out with a back injury. Brad Richardson skated on a regular line in practice and is expected to play.
The Canucks pose an interesting challenge. They’re a good mix of size and speed, and their top six – anchored by the superlative Sedin twins – is really strong and has good balance. Their big issue is that their team is top-heavy, in terms of points production – their offense is driven by their top line primarily, and they don’t get as much from their defenders as the Flames do. The Canucks have three players with 60+ points (which is good) and zero players producing between 40 and 60. Calgary, for contrast, also has three players at 60+ points, but also has three players (all defensemen) with between 40 and 60 points. In short: if the Flames can shut down the Canucks top group without giving up too much to their bottom grouping, they can win.
But, you know, the Canucks are probably saying the exactly same thing about the Monahan/Hudler/Gaudreau line. The next seven (or so) games will be an interesting test of each group’s mettle.
|Power Play||18.8% (13th)||19.3% (8th)|
|Penalty Kill||80.6% (20th)||85.7% (2nd)|
|Corsi||44.4% (28th)||49.5% (19th)|
|Corsi Close||45.1% (28th)||50.7% (18th)|
|Faceoffs||47.4% (26th)||46.7% (29th)|
|PDO||101.1 (6th)||99.4 (24th)|
SUM IT UP
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, you guys. The Calgary Flames are in the playoffs. It’s Game 1. There will be plenty of time and space for the gnashing of teeth and analysis of all aspects of this game. But try not to fret too much today. The Flames did what few expected them to do. They made the post-season.
Try to enjoy it while it lasts.