CALGARY — The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division and the Calgary Flames got into the playoffs via a wild card, yet just one win separated the teams in the regular season.
Their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series, starting Thursday in Anaheim, is less of a lopsided matchup than it was two years ago, when the Ducks eliminated Calgary in five games in the second round.
The Ducks (46-23-13) boast more players with playoff experience. But the Flames (45-33-4) aren’t as green in the post-season as they were in 2015.
Anaheim remains a formidable opponent, however, and the stat that continues to haunt the Flames is their inability to win in the Honda Center.
Calgary hasn’t won a regular-season game in Anaheim since 2004. The Flames are 1-4 there in the post-season with their lone victory in 2006.
“We’ve got to go in there believing we can win,” Flames captain Mark Giordano said. “The streak and all that is there. We’re going to have to get games there to win a series.”
Giordano is at the centre of animosity carrying over from an April 4 game in Anaheim. He collided with Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler in the third period, and Fowler did not return to the game.
Calgary’s captain and defenceman Josh Manson fought in a penalty-filled third period.
Ducks GM Bob Murray said Fowler would be out four to six weeks and accused Giordano of intentionally targeting Fowler’s knee. Flames GM Brad Treliving called Murray’s comments “asinine.”
Giordano and Calgary’s poor record in Anaheim is sure to be fodder for the Ducks’ faithful in Thursday’s Game 1. They chanted “you can’t win here” in last week’s game.
Game 2 is Saturday followed by Games 3 and 4 in Calgary on Monday and next Wednesday respectively.
The Ducks were 29-8-4 at home this season. Anaheim ranked first in the NHL in faceoffs won (54.7), second in hits (2,146) and tied for third with the Montreal Canadiens in fewest goals-against (200).
The Flames have come a long way from the team that went 4-5-1 in October. Since Nov 15, only Washington, Columbus and Minnesota had more wins than Calgary (40).
An 8-2 record in March indicates Calgary is peaking at the right time.
“Playoffs are different animal,” head coach Randy Carlyle told reporters in Anaheim earlier this week.
“Everyone starts at zero. We’re going to have to earn everything that we get. I would expect Calgary is going to have a few surprises.”
Calgary’s post-season appearance two years ago was its first in six years and also marked the first time in 11 the Flames got beyond the first round.
It’s rare when the Ducks don’t make the playoffs. Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry won a Stanley Cup in 2007.
After ousting Calgary in 2015, they and eight other current Ducks were eliminated in Game 7 of the conference final by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Ducks fell in seven games to the Nashville Predators in the first round in 2016.
“It’s a deep team,” Treliving said. “They’re playoff battle tested. We know what we’re up against.
“We know how good they are, but we’ve got to focus in on our individual game, our collective game and make sure we’re bringing our best effort.”
Where Calgary may have the edge is in goal.
Brian Elliott, 32, took the St. Louis Blues to last year’s conference final before he was acquired by the Flames in a trade.
Anaheim’s John Gibson, 23, has started six playoff games in his career to Elliott’s 37.
The Flames will lean heavily on Elliott in this series to advance.
“You just want to make the saves you should and a couple you shouldn’t,” Elliott said.