ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Calgary Flames were the most penalized team in the NHL this season with an average of 11:39 penalty time per game. The Ducks were the second-most penalized team, at 11:23 per game. On April 4, in the teams’ final regular-season matchup, their extracurricular activities added up to 106 penalty minutes in the third period after a knee-on-knee hit by Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano took Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler out of the game and, unfortunately, out of the lineup for two to six weeks.
Based on that, it’s reasonable to conclude their first-round series will not be mistaken for a tea party.
That’s why it was amusing Wednesday to hear coaches and players on both teams insist discipline is the touchstone of their strategy, when it’s likely that decorum will go out the window within minutes of Thursday’s opening faceoff at Honda Center.
“I’ve said from the beginning our discipline has to be upgraded. We’ve had (a) penalty parade,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said after his team practiced. “Both coaching staffs, they’re not going to want the penalty parades to the box. Special teams are always a factor in a series. They can swing momentum positively and negatively in your direction for your hockey club.”
Calgary’s Glen Gulutzan said essentially the same thing after his team’s brisk practice.
“Special teams become really important in the playoffs. The margins are so tight that a penalty here, a bounce, chances are hard to come by,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a physical series, but I really think it’s going to be a whistle-to-whistle series, and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
Carlyle insisted the Ducks had “turned the page” on what happened in their last regular-season encounter, which included Ducks defenseman Josh Manson fighting Giordano to avenge the hit on Fowler. Giordano repeated Wednesday his hit wasn’t intentional and added, “Hopefully Cam’s OK,” but he’s bound to become “Public Enemy No. 1” in Anaheim.
“Just looking forward to moving on,” said Giordano, who will appear in his first playoff game since 2007, a wait prolonged by the Flames’ years of struggles and his injury problems.
He also said the Flames’ success depends on avoiding the penalty-prone behavior they specialized in during the season. The Flames’ speed could be a big asset, but it won’t do them any good if they’re marching to the penalty box and unable to roll out their lines.
“We don’t want to get into that game. We want to play hard, play physical, play in between the whistles,” Giordano said. “We don’t want anything to slow our game down, so we’ve got to stay away from it. We’ve got to be emotional, but there’s a fine line in the playoffs where you’ve got to use your emotions in the right way.”
If there’s a “Public Enemy No. 2” in Anaheim, it will be Flames rookie forward Matthew Tkachuk. The son of former NHL and U.S. national team forward Keith Tkachuk, the 19-year-old has a knack for irritating opponents with his abrasive style and led the Flames with 105 penalty minutes. He also has a knack for scoring: He had 13 goals and 35 points in 76 games and might have had more if not for a two-game NHL-imposed suspension he earned for elbowing Kings defenseman Drew Doughty in the face.
The word “restraint” doesn’t seem to be part of Tkachuk’s vocabulary, but he has no intention of toning down his game because it’s the playoffs.
“I know that the way I’ve played my whole life is the way I’m going to play this series and moving forward for the rest of my career,” he said. “I don’t really worry too much about it, if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work. I just hope that when it comes down to me playing my game, playing our team game, our team playing our team’s game, hopefully we’ll have success.”
Carlyle was Keith Tkachuk’s teammate and assistant coach in Winnipeg, and he joked about asking Keith to tighten the reins on Matthew. Not that Carlyle expected success there.
“If he’s as thick-headed as his dad, I don’t think a phone call will do any good,” said Carlyle, who noted Keith Tkachuk was nicknamed “Meat” for the talented but immature Nuke LaLoosh character in the movie “Bull Durham.”
How the Ducks handle Tkachuk probably will influence how the series plays out.
“You’ve just got to stay mentally strong. He does a job and he does it effectively, as you’ve seen throughout the year with him,” said Manson, the son of legendary NHL tough guy Dave Manson. “You don’t let him get under your skin. You focus on winning more than you focus on one guy. I think this group will be fine. We’ve dealt with a few of those kind of players before.”
Dealing with it again might mean exercising restraint instead of racking up penalty minutes, which would be a novelty for both teams.