Anaheim Ducks

NHL playoff series digested: Anaheim Ducks – Nashville Predators (2-4)

One year after battling it out in seven gruelling games in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, the paths of Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators crisscrossed again with a bigger reward on the line: a spot on the Stanley Cup Final.

For the eight straight season a team from the state of California contested the Western Conference Final, but not even Anaheim, who reached this stage for the second time in three years, could stop the fledging Nashville Predators. Overcoming crushing injuries along the way, the Predators closed out the series in six games to become just the third Conference lowest seed to advance to the Final round in the salary cap era.

Series Results:

Game 1: Nashville Predators 3 @ 2 Anaheim Ducks (OT)

Game 2: Nashville Predators 3 @ 5 Anaheim Ducks

Game 3: Anaheim Ducks 1 @ 2 Nashville Predators

Game 4: Anaheim Ducks 3 @ 2 Nashville Predators (OT)

Game 5: Nashville Predators 3 @ 1 Anaheim Ducks

Game 6: Anaheim Ducks 3 @ 6 Nashville Predators

 

Ducks’ shutdown line wore down in the third round

Due to their inability to close out the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6, just 48 hours passed between the end of round two for the Anaheim Ducks and the beginning of the series against the Nashville Predators. Such short turnaround would stretch thin Anaheim’s roster and many key players exhibited signs of fatigue, including the in-form Ryan Getzlaf (0 goals, 4 assists, -2), however few struggled quite like the members of their rambunctious shutdown unit, Jakob Silfverberg, Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano.

Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler (#17) blocks a shot in front of goaltender John Gibson in Game 2 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Exhausted from having to chase Connor McDavid around the ice for seven games, the trio combined for just 4 pts in the series (3 from Silfverberg) and Kesler, in particular, was a diffuse shadow of his best. The two-way maven picked up just one assist (on the powerplay) in six matches, amassed an ugly -6 rating and got clobbered in the possession front (43.71 adj. CF%) as coach Randy Carlyle didn’t have the depth in personnel to scale back his usage (22:26 min TOI per game, 3:11 min SH TOI) or quality of competition.

Kesler and his linemates bandied mostly with the Predators top line of Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen for the first four games, and barely absorbed the blow (GF 2-4) as the Ducks miraculously eked out a split, yet they also couldn’t make the difference later in the series (GF 1-2) when their defensive responsibilities loosened up with Johansen’s injury and the spotlight shifted from Nashville’s stars to their less heralded characters….

Nashville’s depth steps up following Johansen’s injury

The Ducks had just broken Nashville’s 10-game home playoff win streak to level the series at two and headed home for a pivotal Game 5 when the news storm was unleashed. Nashville’s top line center, Ryan Johansen, would miss the rest of playoffs with a thigh injury and captain Mike Fisher, another pivot, would sit alongside him in the stands to carve two massive holes in the middle of the Predators’ lineup.  Meanwhile, Anaheim would be without the services of Rickard Rakell, probably their best forward in the series until then, and goaltender John Gibson would soon join him in the infirmary after sustaining a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 5.

Consequently, both teams were left scrambling at a crucial juncture of their postseason run – the team that wins Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-7 series was 198-54 in NHL history – and yearning for the emergence of the proverbial playoff heroes. For Anaheim’s undoing, those who seized the moment were Nashville’s grinders.

Nashville’s Pontus Aberg scores as he falls to the ice in Game 5 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

With nine minutes left on the clock and the score tied at one in Game 5, Ducks’ backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier stopped Filip Forsberg’s shot only to watch as rookie Pontus Aberg spectacularly dove in and swiped the rebound into the net for the game-winning goal. The Swedish winger had just been elevated to top-six status, and his newly-formed partnership with Forsberg and regular fourth-line center Colton Sissons had more shenanigans up its sleeve.

Bottom-six forward Austin Watson broke the ice just 81 seconds into Game 6, and then it was the Sissons’ show. The 23-year-old doubled the lead in the first period, whacked home the puck to reclaim the two-goal advantage in the second, and later completed his first career hat-trick with six minutes to go to bomb the Preds in front for good.

Colton Sissons (L), Pontus Aberg (R) and Filip Forsberg (C) celebrate Sissons’ second goal in Game 6 (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Watson would still add an empty netter and Pontus Aberg ended the night with two primary assists as Nashville’s depth sunk a Ducks squad that also received goals from overlooked parts like Ondrej Kase and Chris Wagner. However, they couldn’t make it count, going 0-7 on the powerplay in Games 5 and 6 and bobbling the puck on a late man-advantage that expired moments before Sissons scored the series-deciding marker.

Anaheim gets ransacked in third periods

The Ducks’ propensity to easily surrender momentum and cough away early leads had already emerged at various points during their previous series, and it would eventually prove fatal against the Nashville Predators.

For instance, on their first three defeats to the Predators, Anaheim scored first but couldn’t find a way to secure victory. They allowed the Predators to answer back with two goals in Game 1 before falling in overtime, played with fire in Game 3, when Nashville tied in the beginning of the third period and had two goals overruled before Roman Josi found the winner on a late powerplay, and slowly wilted in Game 5 up to the moment Pontus Aberg snatched another third period game-winning-goal.

Nashville’s Roman Josi (#59) pots his game-winning-goal in Game 3 (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Furthermore, Anaheim choked away a precious two-goal lead in the third period of Game 4 only to be saved by Corey Perry’s deflected shot in overtime, and conceded the final three goals in Game Six’s  loss right after rallying to tie the game at 3-3. All of this added up to a 10-4 goal deficit in third period play, and 10-2 (7-2 without empty net goals) in the last four games of the series, when Nashville simply found another gear and left Anaheim in the dust.

Best players in the series

John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks)

The Ducks’ goaltender may have left the ice early in Game 5 to never be seen again, but he was still the team’s finest player in the series, keeping the scores close for the first four matches even as Nashville dominated the run of play to the tune of a 57.5 share of all shots on goal and a 58.8% of 5-on-5 scoring chances for.

Ducks’ goaltender John Gibson makes a save in Game 3 (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

John Gibson responded to the assault by amassing an excellent 0.939 Sv% and 2.16 GAA, besting his counterpart Pekka Rinne (0.911 Sv%) to force the 2-2 tie after four games. However, unfortunately for Anaheim, when the 23-year-old went down injured, backup Jonathan Bernier couldn’t pick up the slack, allowing 6 goals in 34 shots (0.824 Sv%), including 4 in 16 on an abysmal Game 6 performance that doomed the Ducks’ chances.

Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators)

With five goals and two assists, the Swedish winger was the main catalyst of Nashville’s offense throughout a series where he never failed to notch, at least, a point per game.

After tallying in Games 1 and 2, Forsberg tied the score in the third periods of Games 3 and 4, forced the rebound that Pontus Aberg nodded home for the game-winning-goal in Game 5, and banked the empty-net goal in Game 6, yet his contributions extended well beyond the scoresheet. A two-way force, Forsberg fired 25 shots on goal, picked up a series high +6 on the strength of his 7 even-strength points, and was a tremendous driver of possession (58.55 adj. CF%), scoring chances (65.88 SCF%) and high-danger scoring chances (21-13) in 20:44 min TOI per game.

Nashville’s Filip Forsberg scores on an outstretched John Gibson in Game 2 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Will the Anaheim Ducks return to the playoffs next year? 

The answer is, probably, yes, but another deep run may be too much to ask with the burgeoning Edmonton Oilers on the verge of breaking out.

Unless, of course, they can find a way to use their 4M salary cap cushion to upgrade the attack, especially with a skilled third line center to relieve some scoring burden from the top-six. The names of Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche) and Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal Canadiens) have been floated around and the Ducks might have the assets and desire to complete a deal over the next few weeks, yet, for now, Anaheim is bound to enter 2017-18 with a roster very similar to the one they carried last year.

The Anaheim Ducks will bring the band back together next season (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

For Ducks’ fans, that isn’t exactly bad news, since they were able to dodge the expansion draft bullet Vegas had pointed at them. The price for retaining blueliners Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen was steep – the rights for 22-year-old defenseman Shea Theodore – but GM Bob Murray was also able to package Clayton Stoner and his 3.25M cap hit to Nevada, which facilitated the huge extension thrown Cam Fowler’s way (52M over 8 years, 6.5 M per). The Ducks will thus return the same defensive core to screen goaltenders John Gibson and Ryan Miller, the 37-year-old UFA who agreed to a reasonable 2-year, 4M contract to substitute Jonathan Bernier.

Up front, Anaheim is rooted to veterans Ryan Getzlaf (32-years-old), Corey Perry (32) and Ryan Kesler (33), who will drawing the big bucks for the foreseeable future, and therefore their Stanley Cup window inches ever closer to shutting down completely as their new waves of offensive talent fail to pan out outside of Rickard Rakell, who delivers great value at 3.78M until 2022, and Jakob Silfverberg, who may well break their bank if he keeps the same upward trajectory ahead of unrestricted free agency in 2019.

Anaheim Ducks’ winger Ondrej Kase scored in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)

Patrick Eaves, a 33-year-old coming off a career year, agreed to return on a 3-year deal worth 3.15M per season, and Anaheim hopes he can hold a top-six role, which would ideally belong to former 10th overall pick Nick Ritchie or fellow 21-year-old winger Ondrej Kase. Moreover, Dennis Rasmussen was picked up from Chicago to replace Nate Thompson in the bottom six, a position a guy like Sam Steel, Anaheim’s promising 1st round pick in 2016, might not be ready to crack just yet. But he, and the like, better be soon enough, or Anaheim’s plunge into the deep waters of the Western Conference may not be more than a couple of years away.

*For an explanation of the “advanced statistics” terminology cited on this article, read Corsica’s glossary. Unless stated otherwise, all data refers to 5-on-5 play and was retrieved from Corsica.hockey (currently down), Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.

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NHL playoff series digested: Anaheim Ducks – Edmonton Oilers (4-3)

Eleven years after dispatching two Californian teams in route to the Stanley Cup Final, the Edmonton Oilers aspired to rehash history by sending home the Anaheim Ducks following a first round scalping of the San Jose Sharks. They came close, stretching the tie to the limit after a slew of high-scoring games, but capitulated in Game 7 to the Anaheim Ducks, a team that pulled through by exorcizing the demons of recent meltdowns. Here’s how they did it. 

Series Results:

Game 1: Edmonton Oilers 5 @ 3 Anaheim Ducks

Game 2: Edmonton Oilers 2 @ 1 Anaheim Ducks

Game 3: Anaheim Ducks 6 @ 3 Edmonton Oilers

Game 4: Anaheim Ducks 4 @ 3 Edmonton Oilers (OT)

Game 5: Edmonton Oilers 3 @ 4 Anaheim Ducks (2 OT)

Game 6: Anaheim Ducks 1 @ 7 Edmonton Oilers

Game 7: Edmonton Oilers 1 @ 2 Anaheim Ducks

 

Kesler unit oppresses Connor McDavid

Playoff action is all about matchups and it doesn’t get much bigger than seeing the most exciting young player in the World chased unrelentingly by a pesky two-way maven and his two apprentices. In order to advance, the Oilers knew Connor McDavid would have to find a way to duck out Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano and impact the game at even strength, but it simply didn’t happen consistently.

The 20-year-old wunderkind picked up just two 5 on 5 points over the 7-game slate, and spent myriad shifts separated from the puck, unable to break out in transition with speed as the opposition grinded in the boards and Kesler attached himself by the hip as soon as the puck changed hands, limiting McDavid’s touches to a minimum and the strokes of genius to a single dazzling goal in Game 3.

Connor McDavid (#97) and Ryan Kesler (#17) tangled up during Game 4 (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The outcome of such suffocating pressure was a flummoxed, frustrated superstar restricted to uncharacteristic sub-45% totals in adj. CF%, scoring chances for% and high-danger CF% despite a 7-6 edge in goals-for at 5 on 5 while on the ice. More than enough to allow the Ducks’ depth to take over and tilt the series, as Anaheim lumped a 55.69 CF% (2nd best in the second round), 55.1 SCF% and 54.3 HD CF% that sustained a 19-16 superiority in even-strength goals.

Oilers fail to nurse precious multi-goal advantages

For the second consecutive series, Edmonton squared off against a team boasting significantly more playoff experience, and the ebbs and flows of the series would end up ascertaining that can still be a germane factor in determining the victorious side. The youth, callowness and a certain lack of poise were readily evident in the way the Oilers cracked under pressure and conceded three goals in the final minutes of Game 5 to squander a crucial win, but there were a few more moments where things unravelled quickly while not necessarily leading to defeat.

Goal scorer Corey Perry (#10) and teammates Josh Manson (#42) and Rickard Rakell (#67) celebrate victory in the 2OT of Game 5 (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

For instance, the Oilers left Anaheim with a 2-0 advantage however not without a major dose of fortune, blowing a two-goal lead in a three-minute stretch during the third period of the first encounter only to get bailed out by a lucky banked shot, and barely surviving another third period push in Game 2 where Patrick Eaves and Cam Fowler found the post. And since these things usually even out, it went south for the Oilers on the return home.

In Game 3, the Oilers rallied back spectacularly from three goals down only to surrender all the momentum from McDavid’s amazing goal when fourth-liner Chris Wagner responded just a few seconds later. The Ducks would escape with a 6-3 win, and then overcame a two-goal deficit in Game 4 by striking three consecutive times in the second period before securing victory in overtime.

Edmonton deserves full credit for answering the bell emphatically in Game 6, with their season on the line and the sucker-punch of Game 5 still resonating, but it would again fail to seize control in Game 7 despite being gifted an early lead on a ludicrous bounce, and facing a team that bear the heavy burden of having lost five consecutive Games 7 at home after falling behind.

Ducks’ forward Nick Ritchie reacts after scoring the series-deciding goal in Game 7 (Photo by Robert Binder/NHLI via Getty Images)

Todd McLellan never found an answer for superlative Ryan Getzlaf

In nine seasons as a coach on the Pacific Division, the first seven at the helm of the San Jose Sharks and the last two with the Edmonton Oilers, Todd McLellan has faced Ryan Getzlaf and his Anaheim team in more than forty occasions. With that much insight, you would think the Oilers manager had already mastered a way to slow down the Ducks’ captain and major offensive hub, yet the 32-year-old ran rampant for the first four games, hoarding the puck, dishing physical punishment and posting 4 goals, 4 assists and a +4 rating as his group gobbled, chewed and spit out the Ryan Nugent Hopkins line and the Klefbom/Larsson pairing to the tune of +55 adj CF% and +62 SCF%.

Nevertheless, it would take an imperious four-point performance in Game 4 and a series tied at two games apiece for McLellan to act and scramble his lines, shifting the big Leon Draisatl permanently off Connor McDavid’s wing and onto a head-to-head matchup with Getzlaf. Territorially, the difference was slim, as Getzlaf’s scoring chances (+66 SCF%) and possession metrics (+62 adj CF%) actually improved, but, at least, he cooled off on the scoresheet, recording a single even-strength point – a primary assist on Corey Perry’s overtime winner in Game 5 – in the last three games as the series went the distance. Not that it mattered much when the imposing #15 watched from the ice as Nick Ritchie wired the puck past Cam Talbot to pot the series-deciding goal and set his final stat line at five goals, five assists and a +7. Simply superb.

Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf makes a play as Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lags behind during Game 2 (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Best players in the series

Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)

This pick requires no further argument as we just dedicated an entire section to the utter brilliance of Anaheim’s top-line center, yet Jakob Silfverberg also played a huge part in getting the Ducks over the hump and merited a few lines of his own.

The Swedish winger matched his Captain’s five goals, tallying once in each of the first four games to cap the streak with the overtime winner in Game 4, but he was thoroughly a force to be reckoned with, finishing with 8 points, 28 shots fired on goal in 19:59 mins of TOI/GP, and a sparkling 59.10 adj. CF% and 58.62 SCF%. All of this while devotedly assisting Ryan Kesler on the Connor McDavid assignment.

Leon Draisatl (Edmonton Oilers)

The German had already enjoyed tremendous success against Anaheim during the regular season, amassing 6 goals and 2 assists in 5 confronts, and he continued his excellence in the playoffs to justify the sobriquet “Duck Hunter”.

Draisatl notched a four-point performance in Game 1 to kick off the series in style, and he proceeded to make good use of the pockets of ice left available by the Ducks’ option of keying in on teammate Connor McDavid to post monster offensive numbers. In 21:02 mins of action per night, the 21-year-old tallied a +4 rating, totalled an incredible 13 points (5+8), opened the score twice, and banged in a hat-trick in Game 6’s 7-1 demolishing which kept the Oilers alive for a few more days. Not bad for a maiden playoff campaign.

Leon Draisatl shone under the spotlight during the Oilers’ second round series (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Will the Edmonton Oilers return to the playoffs next year? 

Barring a major Connor McDavid injury, the young Oilers will be a playoff team for years to come and perhaps the Pacific Division’s perennial favourite as soon as 2017-18. A luxury afforded by Connor McDavid’s MVP-calibre level at age 20 and the presence of a perfect sidekick, Leon Draisatl, the team’s main order of business this offseason.

Loaded with 19M in cap space for 2017-18, the Oilers should lock down Draisatl to a maximum-term extension in the 7-7.5M range, and consequently leave sufficient room to accommodate what should be a preposterous extension for the captain in 2018. McDavid may only settle for upwards to 12M per year, but maybe they can work out a four or five-year pact at around 10M that would mimic the structure of the 2nd contracts signed by the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Either way, GM Peter Chiarelli will have quite some time to mull over his options, since he’s already checked off most of what he needed to do this summer.

Edmonton’s players embrace after a goal as hats rain in Game 6. The Oilers will feature prominently at this stage of the playoffs over the next few seasons (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

For instance, the Oilers finally traded winger Jordan Eberle and netted Ryan Strome in return, a 23-year-old center that could slot in the third hole and thrive on a new environment, hopefully making expendable UFA David Desharnais. Depending on production, Strome can earn a fair raise next year as a RFA, and the Oilers may also prepare to compensate Patrick Maroon (1.5M) and Mark Letestu (1.8M) should they build on successful 2016-17 campaigns.

Moreover, it was expected the Eberle trade would land a top-four defenseman but instead Edmonton secured Kris Russell for four additional seasons at a 4M rate, an excessive compensation they may be able to live with for now since Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera are tied up at reasonable figures. Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse, both RFAs in 2018, round out the defensive group after Griffin Reinhart got plucked by Vegas in the expansion draft, therefore leaving forward Benoit Pouliot and his 4M in the books until 2019 and young backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit to cover for starter Cam Talbot.

NHL playoff series digested: Anaheim Ducks – Calgary Flames (4-0)

The back half of April comprises what is, by far, the most compelling portion of the NHL schedule. The 1st round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is a delightful feast of action-driven evenings and late nights when hockey fans can barely manage to catch their breath while the scaled up intensity of postseason play bristles in multiple channels. Keeping an eye on all happenings and storylines is virtually impossible, thus the need to compile reports on the feats taking place across different boards.

This spring I’m aiming to do just that, so after every playoff series reaches its epilogue, I’ll provide a roundup of the aspects that concurred for the end result, regardless of whether we witnessed a routine triumph by a top-seed, a tight seven-game series or an epic upset. To maintain some resemblance of consistency as we move forward, I’ll try to stick to a structure that I believe will allow for a concise, informative dispatch targeted to those that couldn’t follow the matchup in question, but still want to comprehend the outcome.

Hence, I’ll start by objectively pinning down the three key factors that justify the final scoreline, offering the underlying rationale, before electing the best player in the series for each side. Finally, with an eye on the future, I’ll dispense my prediction on the response for a simple question about the future of the team that just got laid off: Will they be back on the same stage next year?

Fifteen best-of-seven series are contested in the Stanley Cup playoffs until the chalice is awarded, and the first to be completed pitted two Pacific Division opponents that seemed to find their stride late in the season. The Calgary Flames entered with a large cloud hanging over their heads, as the Canadian side had failed to secure a win at Anaheim’s Honda Center in 13 years, a string of 25 consecutive regular-season matches, but despite that many – including myself – still expected a evened up encounter. Obviously, it didn’t unfold that way and I’ll try to explain why:

Series Results:

Game 1: Calgary Flames 2 @ 3 Anaheim Ducks

Game 2: Calgary Flames 2 @ 3 Anaheim Ducks

Game 3: Anaheim Ducks 5 @ 4 Calgary Flames (OT)

Game 4: Anaheim Ducks 3 @ 1 Calgary Flames

 

Brian Elliott sputtered badly

The veteran goaltender was one of the building blocks behind Calgary’s push towards a playoff spot after the All-star break, but he authored a disastrous array of games which effectively submerged his team’s chances of going deep into the postseason. Just 52 seconds into the first game, Ryan Getzlaf’s long wrister found a way past Elliott’s shoulder, and the puck would continue to trickle through his body in virtually every way possible from then on.

A Jakob Silfverberg snap shot from the top of the circle crept below his arm to stand as the GWG in Game 1, and the Swedish winger also whizzed another shot past his tucked-in glove to open the score in Game 2 before Rickard Rakell stuffed the puck from behind the net for a Ducks two-goal lead. Then, in game 3, the 32-year-old found another gear, spewing out a terrible rebound to the front of the crease, right towards the onrushing Nick Ritchie, to wake up the visitors, contributing decisively to their three-goal rally from 4-1 down when a Shea Theodore wrister handcuffed him on the second goal, and finally surrendering the OT winner by deflecting a puck thrown from the boards towards a teammate standing in front, where it ricocheted to the net.

The puck sits behind Brian Elliott after the OT winner in Game 3 (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Elliott probably didn’t deserve to start Game 4 with the Flames season on the line, but he did, and responded by giving up another snoozer on a Patrick Eaves attempt from the boards that squeaked in short side. Just 5:38 min into the night, his season was finished as he was mercifully pulled by coach Glen Gulutzan.

Overall, Elliott posted a putrid 3.89 GAA and .880 Sv% in four postseason games and conceded a mediocre 7 goals in just 42 low-danger shot attempts faced, which is absolutely unacceptable for the AHL, let alone the NHL playoffs. The sweep is on him.

Calgary’s top lines controlled the play but couldn’t convert 5 on 5

The Flames scored nine goals in four games and their PP looked sharp throughout, connecting on 6 of 16 chances, but they just couldn’t keep up with the Ducks five on five, at least on the scoresheet. At even strength, the Ducks tallied 10 times to just two by the Flames, and only one of those came from Calgary’s top-six forwards. The Gaudreau – Monahan – Ferland combo squared off almost exclusively against Anaheim’s premium shutdown unit (Cogliano – Kesler -Silfverberg) and ruled the matchup to the tune of 60 CF% and 70 SCF% (12 For – 5 Against) but was unable to hit the twine even once. In their defence, the Flames’ stars can point out the +4 penalty differential aggregated, which contributed to the four goals buried by the opportunistic Sean Monahan on the powerplay.

Meanwhile, the other battle of heavyweights had more balance to it, with the two-way mastery of the Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik line neutralizing Anaheim’s top guns, Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, at large, but failing to tilt the ice in the right direction as the Flames needed. The Backlund unit managed a 51 CF% and created six scoring chances for while allowing just five, but lost 3-1 in goals. Since further down the lineup they couldn’t make up the difference, with the third forward unit tallying once while Anaheim’s fourth-liner Nate Thompson, for example, amassed 2G and 2 A at even strength, defeat proved inevitable.

Johnny Gaudreau was stifled by the Anaheim Ducks throughout the series (Photo by Robert Binder/NHLI via Getty Images)

Anaheim’s defensive depth holds the fort

With lynchpin Cam Fowler sidelined and Sami Vatanen missing in action after Game 1 (plus the long-time absences of Clayton Stoner and Simon Després), the Ducks had to rely on their flaunted defensive farm in key situations and the kids held their ground. Promising offensive-minded blueliner Shea Theodore was paired with veteran Kevin Bieksa 5 on 5 and the duo stood tall under pressure, spitting out a 51 CF% and surviving the negative (7 for – 10 against) scoring chances differential to post a positive +- rating (Theodore ended at +3, Bieksa +5). The 2013 first round pick, who played six playoff games last year, also collected five points on the series, including two goals at 5 on 5 and a couple of assists while anchoring the top PP unit ( 2.57 min PP TOI/GP).

In another pair, postseason greenhorn Brandon Mountour skated alongside Hampus Lindholm and they ended the series without surrendering a single tally at even strength  – and watching three pucks fly in on the other end – despite a CF% under 40. The duo still managed to balance out the scoring chances (7-7), but unsurprisingly will enter round two with a sky-high PDO of 113. Montour played a healthy 19:27 min per game, while Theodore soaked up over 20 mins, numbers that Anaheim would certainly like to temper a bit moving forward when Fowler and Vatanen return to top-four duty. Korbinian Holzer, the 29-year-old German defenseman, filled in for Vatanen on his first ever NHL postseason cameo, and also escaped with a neutral +-rating in 14.39 min of nightly action.

Best players in the series

Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)

The Ducks captain set the tone in the series with the early goal in Game 1, finished it off with an empty net tally in Game 4 and, in the meantime, was a workhorse for coach Randy Carlyle, leading all forwards with 22.18 min TOI/GP. The 31-year-old collected a total of 3 goals and 2 assists over the four games, one point less than teammates Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell, but more than enough to deserve the distinction on a series where his team wasn’t bothered too much.

Mikael Backlund and Ryan Getzlaf race for a puck during Game 1 (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Mikael Backlund (Calgary Flames)

While Sean Monahan’s four goals and one assist sparkle, his dearth of production at even strength knocks him down in favour of Backlund. The impressive two-way pivot spearheads one of the NHL’s most underrated lines, and while they failed to reach the same heights in the postseason, the Swede never stopped battling on his 19:48 min TOI/GP. He fired a team-high 14 shots on goal, picked up 3 points, and his excellent shorthanded goal in Game 2 brought the Flames back into contention until a fortuitous bounce gave Anaheim a two-game lead.

Will the Calgary Flames return to the playoffs next year? 

Yes, probably. Glen Gulutzan’s team charged up the standings late backed up by solid possession stats and the core group is locked long-term, with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Michael Frolik, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and TJ Brodie all under contract, at least, until 2020. The only exception is Mikael Backlund, a UFA in 2018 the team can’t afford to lose.

This summer, the Flames have decisions to make on defence with Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland and Michael Stone all up for new deals, while retaining UFA Kris Versteeg should be a priority, as the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion pieced together a nice season. Micheal Ferland and Sam Bennett are RFA’s that won’t break the bank to re-sign, while Curtis Lazar and Alex Chiasson’s future needs clarification.

However, the time devoted to that will pale in comparison to the big resolution needed in goal. Both Brian Elliott and backup Chad Johnson are UFA’s, and if Johnson might return to reassume his role, Elliott’s playoff performance definitely sealed his fate in Calgary. The Flames will shop for a goalie and who they settle for will say a lot about their future.

Can they strike a deal with Ben Bishop, the biggest fish expected to be available on the market? Would they look to pry away Marc-Andre Fleury or Jaroslav Halak? Is one of the other free-agents to be (Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Scott Darling, Steve Mason) the answer they’re looking for? With a few more pieces added around the edges, this could be the difference between a true contender for the Cup in the coming seasons, or a team topping as a perennial challenger for a playoff spot.

*For an explanation of the “advanced statistics” terminology cited on this article, read Corsica’s glossary. Unless stated otherwise, all data refers to 5-on-5 play and was retrieved from Corsica.hockey (currently down), Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com.

The Calgary Flames say goodbye to their fans after the defeat in Game 4 (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)