2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Prospectus: Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks will be inspired by the loss of arguably their best and most impactful blue liner in this series — and potentially the entire playoffs, unless the Ducks make it to the Cup Finals — due to…
… who plays for the Flames.
You can see where the intensity level in this series will be off the bat.
Calgary Flames (WC1/Pacific) vs. Anaheim Ducks (Pacific Division Champion)
The Fowler injury set off a series of scrums, totaling over 20 penalties and over 100 penalty minutes. Anaheim was already in a shaky position on the blue line with Sami Vatanen only recently returning, and Hampus Lindholm being (pardon the poor ability to avoid the obvious play on words)… hampered by injury himself. The Ducks almost certainly will not have Fowler in this series, but they still have impact players on the back end.
As it turns out, it was prescient (if not fortunate) by them to bring up puck-rusher Brnadon Montour earlier this season. They need him. He brings the element of the game that Fowler possesses; speed, skill, playmaking ability and coverage, just minus the wealth of playoff and international experience that Fowler accumulated over the years. Josh Manson will have to play more responsibly, even if he may end up “getting involved” at times. Vatanen, Lindholm and even Clayton Stoner will have their say.
The Ducks have come on of late offensively. They were sitting ducks offensively for a good part of the season. Ryan Getzlaf is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career. It was needed. His play spearheaded a run to the division title. A division the San Jose Sharks had relative control over just 30 days ago. Corey Perry has awakened from his season-long slumber. More accurately, though, he had tons of chances and was simply snakebitten. Ryan Kesler is still one of the premier two-way players (and agitators) in the game. The Selke is really between him, Nicklas Backstrom and Patrice Bergeron, honestly. The Flames better be aware of Rickard Rakell whenever he is on the ice. He is sneaky. He can get to wherever he wants on the ice. He has silky hands and can finish in tight. He paced the Ducks in goal scoring for a reason. Glue guys like Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano can turn a series, and we think they probably will here.
Giordano should be on lookout whenever he is on the ice with Chris Wagner and Jared Boll. They will be looking to make him pay for injuring Fowler. They cannot take foolish penalties in the process, however.
Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports
Calgary is a high flying offensive machine. Their defence get involved as well, particularly Dougie Hamilton, Giordano and T.J. Brodie. Their bread and butter is the mixture of speed and physicality throughout each line. The top line of John Hockey, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland epitomizes this. Gaudreau is the smallest player in the league, but his hockey IQ is off the charts and he never takes a big hit. If someone dares to take a run at him, Ferland is ready and willing to take up for his teammate. Ferland can also finish, which is why having him on this line works for Calgary. Monahan can do everything that his wingers do, which is critical, as well.
The Mikael Backlund line (rookie Matthew Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik) is a “Lite” version of the top line. Backlund has been a good playmaker this year. Frolik can score and Tkachuk will mix it up with whoever gets in his way. And he has the touch like his father, “Big Walt”, Keith Tkachuk. The Sam Bennett line features Kris Versteeg and Alex Chiasson. Again, more of the same. The Matt Stajan line of Lance Bouma and Troy Brouwer features no easy shifts for the Ducks, either.
The questions here are can the third pair of Matt Bartkowski and Deryk Engelland and Brian “Moose” Elliott backstopping the team do enough to hang with the constantly-in-your-face style of the Randy Carlyle-coached Ducks? This will be the most intense series of all of the first rounders, we think. Whoever comes out of the series will be limping into the conference semifinals, that’s for sure.
John Gibson finally gets his chance to shine without looking over his shoulder at Freddie Andersen. However, while Gibson was injured (shocker; an annual rite of passage for him, sadly), Jonathan Bernier has played borderline great in his stead. If Gibson has any rough patches, Carlyle will not hesitate to pull him and play Bernier. In fact, some believe there is tension regarding the goaltending in Carlyle’s mind, even if Gibson is clearly better than Bernier, who just happened to play his best in net this season with… wait for it… the best and most responsible players in front of him to this date. Goalie play isn’t so much about athleticism and reaction time, but consistency, positioning, reading plays and having good defence and responsible back-checkers in front of you. Gibson can do all of the technically sound things, and the exceptionally athletic, which gives him the edge. The Ducks are perennially one of the stingiest teams in the league, and nothing changed in 2016-2017. They will lean on the Flames just enough to get past them, but it will be far from easy.
Call: DUCKS IN 7.