Curses! Foiled Again!

Twenty-eight.

That’s the current number of consecutive losses the Calgary Flames have now amassed at Honda Center in Anaheim. That number includes game one of these 2017 playoffs between the Flames and Anaheim’s Ducks.

The irony is that this game was eminently winnable for Calgary’s team. If not for one brief moment of what can only be called a brain-freeze, the Ducks would not have had a 3-on-0 spearheaded by goalie John Gibson, and would not have scored a gift-goal on Brian Elliott who was left all alone as the Flames attempted a complete line change. Until this point, the Flames held a 2-1 lead and had outplayed the Ducks for most of the game. the tying goal changed that by causing the team’s play to become disorganized long enough for the Ducks to capitalize one more time for the go-ahead – and game winning – goal with Brian Elliott screened on the scoring shot by one of his own team-mates.

A total of two simple blunders cost Calgary game one Thursday night. Otherwise, they played well enough to win. Their game wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t textbook, but it was working. The look on every Flames’ face when they tied the game was in the first one of optimism and the look they all shared with the 2-1 goal was one of belief: From Johnny Gaudreau to Troy Brouwer, they appeared to believe they could kill The Curse on that night. That lasted right up until that line-change goal, when belief in winning turned into a belief in bad luck.

Give Gibson credit: If he hadn’t been on his toes and noticed all five players were leaving the ice at the same time, the outcome could have been quite different.

Time to deal with the fact that The Curse might just be a real thing. Curses however were made to be broken, and tonight is another chance to do so. The Flames have to play a near-perfect game. It won’t have to be their best game (though that would be nice), it just has to be mistake-free while taking advantage of every opportunity they can get. If they stick with their system, they have a real shot at winning tonight.

If one simple little goof-up translates into a goal and a loss, it might be time to call in Major League‘s Cerrano Jones to invoke a little voodoo in favor of the Flames in the form of sacrificing a chicken or – preferably – a Duck.

Uphill Battle: Underdogs Face Monumental Task

Here it is, the 2017 NHL playoff matches were solidified on Sunday (April 9) and with it seemingly impossible tasks for at least two teams.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, led by Austin Matthews, face the league juggernaut Washington Capitals in a battle that many are predicting will be a sweep of the Blue Buds. The other monumtental task faces the Johnny Gaudreau-led Calgary Flames. While these two teams should match up closer on paper than they do on the ice, nobody is predicting a 4-game series in this one. However a vast majority are still predicting a Ducks’ victory, in five or six games.

This certainly has the Calgary Flames fan base seething and – pardon the pun – seeing red. After the final two regular season games between these teams, coupled with “the streak” in Anaheim, the play of certain Ducks’ players and Ducks’ GM Bob Murray’s comments calling Flames’ Captain Mark Giordano a “dirty player”, a great many people spoken to admit they want to see the team get at least a modicum of revenge on the team seen as most fowl (yes, I used a really bad pun) in the city of Calgary.

One thing is certain: If the Flames wind up being drawn in to the Ducks’ game, the series is over fast. Players like Matt Tkachuk, Micheal Ferland, Deryk Engelland and Sam Bennet will have to walk the line in this series, avoid taking stupid penalties and at the same time be the quartet to get under the skin of the likes of Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler.

For the Flames to have a real chance, they need to force the turnover, embrace puck possession, stand up at the blueline, keep the ducks out of the middle of the ice and up against the boards, and make life unpleasant as possible in the crease for Anaheim’s John Gibson. Additionally, “the curse” has to be laid to rest once and for all.

While I do not expect to see Toronto win more than one game this year (sorry Leafs fans, but I am being objective here), I think that Calgary can stretch this series to either six or seven games. Of course this means they have to learn to win again at the Honda Center. Their last win there did come in the playoffs – in 2005-2006. If they can win one game in Anaheim, then they will have to run the table in Calgary at the Saddledome.

As far as true first round upsets go, there are only really two that would be considered shockers: Toronto upsetting the Capitals, and The Flames upsetting Anaheim. The best chance of an upset starts Thursday in California. As long as Brian Elliott stays hot and keeps playing the way he has the last eight weeks, Calgary’s chances improve dramatically.

While it is a definite uphill battle, the Flames can beat the Ducks as long as they play Calgary Flames hockey. Remember the 5 goals in 6 minutes scored back in December of this season:

Go Flames go!

5 Things the Flames Need to Do in Order to Beat the Ducks

The Flames are certainly the underdogs coming into Thursday night where they will play the Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the Flames don’t have a chance at winning the series. If the Flames can do the following I believe they have a good chance at winning the series.

1: Play Physical

The Ducks are a very physical team, and the Flames need to match that. The guys to do that job will be mainly  Deryk Engelland, Sam Bennett, Michael Stone, Matthew Tkachuk and of course Michael Ferland. Quick thing on Michael Ferland: When the Flames went on the surprising and exciting 2015 playoff run it was largely on his back. He had 2 goals and 2 assists, 40 hits in 6 games vs the Canucks. He didn’t provide much scoring, but he got very under the skin of the Canucks, especially Kevin Bieksa, who he will play come Thursday. You can almost guarantee the Ducks will be coming after Ferland and also Mark Giordano because of his hit on Cam Fowler. Too often when there has been lots of fighting and rough stuff it throws the Flames off their game. In this series they can’t let that happen. The Flames need to play physical, but they cant let the rough stuff get out of hand. If you want to see the damage Michael Ferland can do in the playoffs, watch this:

2. Solid goaltending

Every cup team needs solid goaltending, but especially against the Ducks. Goals are hard to come by against the Ducks because of their defensive style of play, so Brian Elliott needs to play big. He can’t be allowing 3-4 goals because the offence may not be able to score that much. Besides that 8-3 beatdown by the Flames, in the other 4 games the Flames played against the Ducks they only scored 6 goals, losing by scores of 4-1, 3-1, 4-3, and 3-1.

If the Flames can’t score much against the Ducks Brian Elliott will be the biggest factor in this series. The difference between this years team and 2015’s team is mainly the goaltending. Despite the shaky start for the goalies in Calgary the goaltending has vastly improved. In the 2015 playoff run, there would be some good games for Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller, but it was ridiculously inconsistent. Since the all-star break this year it has been very consistent, and Elliott shows no signs of slowing down his spectacular play as of late.

3. Production from the Back End

The Flames were 4th in the league in terms of defensive point production with 176 points. Their point leaders from the point were Dougie Hamilton with 50 (career high) Mark Giordano with 39, and TJ Brodie with 36 points. The Ducks top 3 defenseman scorers are Cam Fowler (who will not play) with 39 points, Sami Vatanen with 24 points, and Hampus Lindholm with 20 points. So the Flames own the edge in defensive scoring by a wide margin, which will be effective. When you have blueliners like Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, TJ Brodie and Michael Stone, they turn almost every line into a threat to score. Their defense is a big reason why the Flames are one of the most balanced-scoring-teams  in the NHL, and the team will need them to be big.

4. Play a fast game

Well that’s what can happen if the Flames use their speed against the Ducks. This goal happened in the 2015 playoffs when Johnny Gaudreau just went right through the ducks team to set up Sean Monahan. To be clear, I’m not saying every rush up the ice has to be embarrassing the entire Ducks team and scoring a goal, but they need to use the speed they have in their lineup to get good breakouts and a clean zone entry because if the Flames don’t use that speed, zone entry will be very difficult because of the way the Ducks play. The players that will be a big factor in playing fast are of course Johnny Gaudreau, also Sam Bennett, Michael Ferland, Michael Frolik, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk.

5. Winning faceoffs

The importance of winning faceoffs in this series is huge. The Ducks are one of the better faceoff teams in the league, operating at a faceoff win % of 54.69. The Flames faceoff win % is 48.93. Mikael Backlund will likely be facing Ryan Getzlaf in the faceoff circle which will not be easy, also Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette have done well in the faceoff circle this year. Defensive zone faceoffs will be one of the bigger parts of the game, the usual player to take the draws is Mikael Backlund, who so far has done very well . They will need him to come up big in the circle as well as Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Matt Stajan.

Let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter @JMannFlames

 

 

 

 

 

Flames draw Ducks in First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

With the Ducks defeating the Kings in overtime, they finish 1st in the division, which means they will play the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs.

It was just 2 years ago that the Flames played the Ducks in a playoff series. It was quite an exciting series, but the Flames lost it in 5 games. Of course its hard not to talk about the Flames’ failure to get wins in Anaheim, but their last win in Anaheim came in a playoff series in 2006 that they won 5-2. But that is not the biggest story of this series right now.

The last time the Flames played the Ducks was April 4. We all know how that turned out: The Flames went up 1-0 after playing a very strong first period. Then the Ducks scored 2 straight to lead 2-1 going into the 3rd, when things got out of hand. In the 3rd period alone there were 106 penalty minutes handed out. Most fights broke out largely due to a controversial hit from Captain Mark Giordano on Duck defenseman Cam Fowler.

The Ducks’ strength comes on the back end with their defense, but it took a big blow against the Flames with Cam Fowler going down with a knee injury.

“I have no use … I mean, the big thing in hockey today is concussions, but I still, as an old player, have no use for knee-on-knee hits, and especially if I think they are somewhat intentional. I hear how Gio is a good guy, and he’s this and he’s that. The media in Toronto is saying, ‘Well, he’s a good guy.’ Well, he’s done this before. I have no respect for people who go after knees. I’m sorry, but knees, they wreck your careers real quick. I don’t like it.” Ducks GM Bob Murray said this to the media following the game.

Cam Fowler will be out from 2-6 weeks, so he is likely going to miss the full series, of course you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but that will help the Flames.

With all that occurred in that game April 4th,  fans of both teams could expect a lot of rough stuff from the Ducks and Flames come Thursday. Almost everyone is  certain that Ducks players may take a run at Mark Giordano, (Cough Cough Kevin Bieksa). Be sure tempers will flare come playoff time.

The Flames have played the Ducks in 2 playoffs series, they played in the 2005-2006 year where they lost in 7 games. They also played in the 2014-2015 season where they lost in 5 games. Their playoff record against the Ducks is 4 wins 8 losses.

Some things to watch for:

Michael Ferland is a lot more valuable in the playoffs. In the Flames surprising playoff appearance in 2015, Michael Ferland was a true leader. His role was to hit, annoy the other team, repeat. Which worked very well. Ferland’s big hits would get the crowd into it, would get the team into it, and most importantly would get the opponents mad at him and get them to take a bad penalty. Be sure to watch Ferland and Kevin Bieksa, because they really don’t like each other. Ferland also produced some scoring, mainly his goal to start the comeback in game 6 against the Canucks, but his rugged, physical play will be a big factor in this series.

Flames are a much more experienced team when it comes to the playoffs now. With the additions of Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg the Flames now have loads of playoff experience. On the roster the Flames have a combined 475 playoff games played. These player should be valuable in helping out players like Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett when the playoffs come.

Also Jon Gillies has been recalled by the Flames which likely says something about Chad Johnson’s injury. But it will be Brian Elliott who will be playing every game unless the injury bug bites him. Last year with St. Louis he had a great playoff run, and he will need to be a factor in this series especially in Anaheim.

The series starts Thursday 10:30 ET/8:30 MT. Flames vs Ducks. Its going to be a good physical series, so get ready.

 

The Playoffs Are Officially Back In Calgary

Coming off a convincing 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, the Flames clinch a playoff berth (their second time in 3 years).

 After a disappointing season last year, the playoffs have returned to Calgary.  But this year the team is much stronger and more complete. This season was full of ups and downs, here was there season summed up in a few lines:

  • Bad Start
  • Gaudreau Injury
  • Chad Johnson Steps up and goes on impressive 11-4-1 run
  • The team goes on a bad 4 game losing streak ultimately being dressed down publicly by an angry coach
  • Brian Elliott picks it up and the Flames start winning
  • They go on a 10 game winning streak
  • They Clinch a playoff spot

So now that the Flames have clinched a playoff spot its time to start thinking about match-ups. Right now the biggest possibilities for the Flames to play are:

Anaheim Ducks:

Right now the most likely match-up for the Flames is the Anaheim Ducks, which may scare some Flames fans. Of course everyone knows about the struggles at the Honda Center. The Flames haven’t won in Anaheim since 2004. But this year’s Flames team is one of the best Flames team I have seen in a long time, If the Flames play the Ducks in a series I wouldn’t be surprised if they finally got a win in Anaheim. The Ducks are currently leading the season series 2-1 and they will be in Calgary Sunday.

Edmonton Oilers:

If you are any kind of hockey fan you want to see a Battle Of Alberta playoff series. It would be a fantastic, entertaining series that nobody would want to miss. But the Flames have struggled against the Oilers this year, the Oilers swept the Season series 4-0. The Oilers played the Flames 2 times in the beginning of the year and we all know how that turned out(7-4 loss, 5-3 loss). Flames lost in a shootout the next meeting and got embarrassed at home losing 7-3. However, all of these games were before the Flames got really hot and put together an amazing final stretch to the end of the season. The thing about the Oilers is their lack of playoff experience, Connor McDavid (a very large part of the Oilers success) has never played a playoff game, neither has Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle. That could play a factor into the Oilers success in the playoffs and if the Flames would want that match-up.

San Jose Sharks:

It does not look likely that the Flames will play the Sharks but anything can happen. The Flames have done well against San Jose this year, they are leading the season series 3-1. But the Sharks obviously have lots of talent and players that come up big during the playoffs like Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau etc. But given the success the Flames have had against the Sharks and the Sharks recent struggles I wouldn’t mind this as a first round match-up.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Nobody would ever want to play the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, and I would think every Flames fan feels the same way, we do not want to see the Flames play the Blackhawks in a series.

Right now the Flames hold the 1st Wild Card spot with 92 points, they are chasing down the Sharks (93 points), the Oilers (95 points) and the Ducks (96 points). With the remainder of the Flames schedule all against California teams it will be an interesting finish to the season.

What do you think? Who would you want the Flames to play in the first Round? And why? Comment what you think below or on my Twitter, @JMannFlames!