Friday, May 1, 2015

Round two preview

The NHL’s frantic first round ended on Wednesday with the Lightning’s 2-0 Game 7 win over the Red Wings, so now would be a good time for everyone to stop, take a breath, and enjoy some much-needed time off from playoff hockey. Decompress a little. Maybe reconnect with family and friends.

Done? Good. Round 2 already started last night. We’d better hurry up and get to the preview.

Pacific Division: No. 1 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 3 Calgary Flames

Series started: Last night in Anaheim, where the Ducks crushed the Flames 6-1

Season series: The Ducks won three of five. Each of the last three games ended in a 6-3 final. That means something. I do not know what.

Playoff history: They’ve met once, in the first round back in 2006; the Ducks came back from a 3-2 series deficit to win in seven.1

Dominant narrative: The well-rested favorite takes on the scrappy underdog.

In this corner: Calgary Flames (45-30-7, 97 points, plus-24 goal differential)

How they got here: They beat the Vancouver Canucks in six in a minor upset, winning all three games at home.

Unexpected first-round hero: Micheal Ferland.2 A 23-year-old rookie, Ferland (or “Ferkland,” as he’ll be forever known to Vancouver fans) drove the Canucks crazy with his physical play early in the series. Then he scored the goal that started the Flames’ comeback in the series-clinching Game 6, and finished the game with three points. His mom wouldn’t let him hit the Sedins, but we can assume she has no issue with him going after Corey Perry, because even moms hate Corey Perry.

Wakey-wakey: Mikael Backlund3 is relied on for secondary scoring from the middle six, but had just one assist in the opening round.

The big question: Can they handle the Ducks physically? The Flames-Canucks series was ugly at times, and Calgary never backed down. But the Canucks aspire to be a dominant physical team; the Ducks actually are one. A massive Jets team went out and hit every Duck that moved in Round 1 and barely made a dent in them. The Flames are a team built on a philosophy of truculence, but they’re not going to intimidate anyone this round.

Health watch: Ferland and Jiri Hudler both left last night’s game and are listed as day-to-day. Captain Mark Giordano remains out after surgery on a torn biceps. That surgery was considered absolutely, positively, 100 percent season-ending, so yeah, he’ll probably be back eventually.

Key number: 329 — Career starts for current Flames goalie Jonas Hiller during his seven years with the Ducks, including 22 in the playoffs. He was pulled early in the second last night.

Bandwagon status: With the Jets, Senators, and Islanders all out, the Flames are pretty much the last team left with any solid underdog cred.

They win this series if: They can handle the physical battle without getting into penalty trouble, the young forwards can keep producing, and Hiller rebounds from Game 1 to write a nice little revenge tale against the team that dumped him. If all of that happens, and about a dozen more things go their way, they’ll make it to Game 5. From there, they’ll probably need a miracle. So, business as usual for these guys.

And in this corner: Anaheim Ducks (51-24-7, 109 points, plus-7 goal differential)

How they got here: They swept the Jets in the first round and had been off since that series ended last Wednesday.

Unexpected first-round hero: Jakob Silfverberg. Guys like Perry and Ryan Getzlaf get most of the attention, but the Ducks can boast some impressive secondary scoring. The 24-year-old Silfverberg, who came over in the Bobby Ryan trade with Ottawa, had six points, including the late winner in Game 2.

Wakey-wakey: Not too many guys can be said to have a bad series when you win in four, but 22-goal man Matt Beleskey was held off the score sheet against Winnipeg.

The big question: Can they sweep again? After last night’s lopsided opener, it sure looks that way.

Health watch: Everyone’s at least a little hurt these days, but the Ducks should be as healthy as possible after all their time off.

Key number: 3 — Number of games in the first round in which the Ducks trailed heading into the third period but came back to win, tying an NHL playoff series record. They also had 18 third-period comebacks during the regular season, another record.

Bandwagon status: Come on. They already beat the Jets and made all their cool fans cry. If they do the same to the underdog Flames, they’ll advance to the third round, where they’ll just kick a boxful of puppies down a flight of stairs.

They win this series if: They look anything like they did in the first round, not to mention in Game 1. On paper, this should be close to a bye for the Ducks.

Prediction: The Flames once again find a way to defy the odds and make this a lot closer than it has any right to be, but the Ducks eventually advance in six hard-fought games.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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