Home-ice advantage is a great thing to have in the Stanley Cup playoffs, to be sure. Teams at home get the last line change. However, winning on the road in the NHL playoffs has been proven to be a bit easier than in the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball postseasons. For example, only eight Presidents’ Trophy winners have won a Stanley Cup, and they have home ice throughout. That said, home ice could mean everything in the Calgary-Anaheim Western Conference Quarterfinals series that begins Thursday. That’s because the Flames simply don’t know how to win in Anaheim. The Ducks are series favourites on Sports Interaction NHL odds.
Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks, Game 1
The Flames (45-33-4) finished fourth in the Pacific Division with 94 points and are the West’s top wild-card team. It was a nice bounce-back season after Calgary finished with just 77 points the previous season and missed the playoffs. That led to the team firing coach Bob Hartley and replacing him with Vancouver Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan. He had previously been the head coach with the Stars for two seasons, compiling a 64-57-9 record while missing the playoffs in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Gulutzan had ties to Calgary as he was the coach and GM of the franchise’s ECHL affiliate in Las Vegas from 2003-09.
Calgary wasn’t Top 10 in any of the four major statistical categories during the regular season, a bit of an anomaly for a playoff team. It was 16th in scoring at 2.7 goals per game and 11th on the power play at 20.2 percent. Star Johnny Gaudreau led the team with 61 points and 43 assists despite missing 10 games. Sean Monahan was tops in goals with 27. Calgary only had two players reach 20 goals, with Mikael Backlund (22) the other.
Defensively, the Flames were 14th in goals-against average (2.7 gpg) and 12th on the penalty kill (81.6 percent). Goalie Brian Elliott was acquired this past offseason from St. Louis and really struggled early but turned it on in the second half of the season and finished 26-18-3 with a 2.55 GAA and .910 save percentage. He helped the Blues reach last year’s conference finals with a 2.44 GAA and .921 save percentage in 18 postseason games.
It’s pretty simple for the Flames: take a lead into the third period. They were 33-0-1 when doing so this season, No. 1 in the NHL. Calgary was 1-4 vs. Anaheim in 2016-17. Kris Versteeg, one of the few Flames with plenty of playoff experience from his Blackhawks days, led the team with five points (2G, 3 A) vs. the Ducks. Elliott was 0-2-2 with a 3.69 GAA and .868 save percentage.
Calgary is +1200 to win its first conference title since 2004, when it lost to the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Ducks (46-23-13) won their fifth straight Pacific Division title in finishing with 105 points – Anaheim closed the season on a four-game winning streak and needed all of them to hold off Edmonton, which was two points back. The Ducks would have home-ice advantage against any West opponent other than Chicago and Minnesota.
Speaking of home ice, the Ducks have won a remarkable 25 straight regular-season games at the Honda Center against these Flames. That’s almost impossible to believe and dates to Jan. 19, 2004. It’s the longest such streak in league history. The Ducks and Flames most recently played in Anaheim on April 4 and the home side won 3-1. That was not the big story. The teams brawled as a result of a low hit by Flames captain Mark Giordano on top Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, who is out 2-6 weeks.
The play enraged the Ducks, with GM Bob Murray calling it “somewhat” intentional. Giordano said he was simply trying to stop Fowler from sneaking through to the Flames’ net and didn’t mean to connect with the knee. Giordano wasn’t penalized and didn’t get disciplined by the league. Vengeance usually isn’t meted out during the playoffs because teams don’t want players getting suspended. Giordano should be safe until the 2017-18 regular season.
The Ducks ranked third in the NHL in goals-against average at 2.4 per game and fourth on the penalty kill (84.7 percent) partly because of the lock-down Fowler, who had 11 goals and 28 assist in nearly 25 minutes per night and was plus-7 on the season. The Ducks are very deep on the blueline so if there’s one team that could lose Fowler and still be OK, it might be this one. Anaheim top goaltender John Gibson was 25-16-9 with a 2.22 GAA and .924 save percentage.
Offensively, Anaheim was mediocre in ranking 18th in scoring (2.7 gpg) and 17th on the power play (18.7 percent). Ryan Getzlaf led the team with 73 points and 58 assists. Rickard Rakell was tops in goals with 33. Former Canucks pest Ryan Kesler added 22 goals and 36 assists. Expect Kesler on the ice as often as possible when Gaudreau is. Kesler is also one of the league’s best on the draw, and the Ducks led the league in winning 54.7 percent of their faceoffs.
In winning the season series 4-1-0 vs. Calgary, Kesler led the Ducks with nine points (4G, 5A). Getzlaf and Corey Perry each had six assists. Gibson was 2-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .966 save percentage. Backup Jonathan Bernier played the other three and could see the ice if Gibson struggles.
Flames vs. Ducks Predictions
We noted above how unbeatable the Flames were when leading after two periods; the Ducks were just 2-19-7 when trailing after two. They were also 4-9-6 when down after one. So getting a lead is paramount for Calgary here.
Should the Flames win one of the first two games in Anaheim to end that streak, it could totally get into the Ducks’ heads. However, the Flames lost all three there in the 2015 conference semifinals, won by Anaheim in five. This time it goes six, but the Ducks advance to face San Jose.