The Calgary Flames begin their first round series with the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night. The Flames finished below Anaheim in the standings and for many reasons aren’t favoured to win the series by most prognosticators.
But it wouldn’t be the Stanley Cup playoffs without a few upstart teams pulverizing the predictions. Here are five key reasons why the Flames could win this series.
1. The 3M line
When the Flames weren’t very good early this season, three men made the team seem like maybe they could pull things together: veteran winger Michael Frolik, rising star Mikael Backlund and teenage rookie Matthew Tkachuk. Thrown together by happenstance and then pitted against the top guns on opposition teams, the 3M line has been the Flames’ backbone all season. Their performance dipped a bit near the end of the year, but if they’re on their game in this series then the Flames will have a chance.
2. Hamilton and Giordano
Around the same time Glen Gulutzan assembled the 3M line, he tried to fix his defense by putting Mark Giordano with Dougie Hamilton. Giordano and Hamilton clicked right away, with Hamilton finding a ton of confidence with the puck and seemingly became much more dangerous almost overnight. Much like the 3M line, these guys face the other team’s top guns. Much like the 3M line, these guys are able to take it to the other team’s top guns most of the time. If they can continue to play well, they should be good enough to give the Flames a chance.
3. Two good PP units
The Flames haven’t exactly made hay against the Ducks with their power plays, and Mike illustrated several of the reasons why things haven’t exactly worked out. But after months of tinkering and leaving fourth line winger Troy Brouwer on the first power play unit, Gulutzan has seemingly stumbled upon two pretty effective power play units:
- Gaudreau – Monahan – Versteeg – Ferland – Brodie
- Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik/Bennett – Hamilton – Giordano
The two units have a nice mix of size, speed and willingness to crash the net. While the Flames have had major problems with zone entries, if they can figure that out these guys could be a big difference-maker.
4. Brian Elliott
Since the calendar flipped over to 2017, has there been a Flames player more crucial to the team’s success than Elliott? He struggled mightily in the first third of the year and really seemed uncomfortable in net. His rebound control wasn’t great. He didn’t track the puck well. Chad Johnson became the de facto number one. But he seemed to work things out and since January, there aren’t very many goalies in the league who have performed better.
5. All it takes is one win
In the “Why They’ll Lose” piece, I mentioned the Flames’ many, many losses at the Honda Center. The losing streak has to weigh on the Flames. But while the streak undoubtedly gives them a psychological disadvantage, it has to make the Ducks feel 10 feet tall during their home games. They’ll beat the Flames at home, because of course they will. All it takes to burst that bubble of invincibility is one Flames win.
From there, anything’s possible.