After a few days off following their defeat of the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round, the Calgary Flames return to action tonight in the opening game of the second round.
Their opponent? The Pacific Division-winning Anaheim Ducks, who swept the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round. The Flames enter the second round as Western Canada’s lone hope for a Stanley Cup. (If that sentence seems wildly surreal to read, just imagine how it is to write when you wrote in October that this team would only get 75 points, like I did…)
It’s a stiff test for a team that’s exceeded expectations since the season began.
The first installment of this series goes at 8pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Despite getting yanked in Game 6 against Vancouver, Jonas Hiller is the starter for Game 1. He’s a former Anaheim Duck – as if this series needed story-lines to be interesting – and has made 58 appearances this season, posting a .919 save percentage and .927 even-strength percentage. All season long, he’s 29-21-4 with a 2.35 goals against average. Hartley trusted him against Vancouver, so he gets the net to start this series.
Injured for the Flames are (deep breath) Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid, Raphael Diaz, Lance Bouma & Paul Byron. Scratches are Corey Potter, Drew Shore and Markus Granlund.
The key for the Flames will be stealing a game in Anaheim. Heck, Hartley said as much at a recent media availability – the path to success is winning their home games and ekeing out a win in Anaheim, much as they did against the Canucks. Granted, the Ducks are a tougher test, but the Flames likely will use these games to test scenarios and match-ups, in order to figure out ways to exploit tendencies back at the Saddledome.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Frederik Andersen gets the start for the formerly Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He’s got a .915 save percentage and .921 even-strength save percentage over 58 previous appearances this season. All-told, he’s got a 39-12-5 record with a 2.36 goals against average. Goaltending-wise, the starters are about even.
Based on reports out of The O.C., Nate Thompson will likely return from injury after missing the entire first round. He’s a very strong anchor to the Ducks’ fourth line, which probably means that Tomas Fleschmann sits. Based on lines from Ducks practices this week, healthy scratches appear to be Fleischmann, Jiri Sekac, Stefan Noesen and James Wisniewski. Injured Ducks include John Gibson, Sheldon Souray, Korbinian Holzer, and Chris Wagner, though Holzer has been skating with the main group, I’m told.
For the Ducks, the key will be to shut down Calgary’s top line and to physically wear down their top four defenders over the course of the series. If any of Calgary’s top defenders flounder or tire, the series could be over rather quickly.
SUM IT UP
For just the 8th time in 35 seasons in Calgary, the Calgary Flames have made the second round of the playoffs. In a season where even making the post-season was considered a long-shot when the campaign began, the club is very much playing with house money.
It’ll be very interesting to see how a young, energetic group without the burden of expectations can do against a very impressive Anaheim Ducks team.