For the third time in five seasons under general manager Brad Treliving, the Calgary Flames are headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs. But for a team that has escaped the first round just twice in the last 30 years, the luck of the draw in the opening round could be massively important.
The odds-makers and standings projections have the Flames likely facing one of five teams in the Western Conference’s first round. Which would they rather face? And which do they stand the best chance of beating?
Most Preferred: Arizona Coyotes
The Flames played the Coyotes four times during the regular season, winning three games by a combined score of 18-4. The lone loss the Flames suffered to the Coyotes was a 2-0 setback at Gila River Arena on the second half of a back-to-back set immediately following a game in Vegas. Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper was the best player on either team that evening, making 30 saves.
Other than that one game, though, the Flames have had the Coyotes’ number. Notably, the Flames scored three shorthanded goals against them on Nov. 25 in a 6-1 win, and they never trailed in the three games they won. The Coyotes have a roster of intriguing young players, but the Flames are deeper, more experienced and match up extremely well against them – especially with home ice advantage.
Moderately Preferred: Colorado Avalanche
The Flames swept their season series with the Avalanche, winning all three games. The nature of their wins might be what makes the Flames more excited to face the Avalanche than their other options:
- A back-and-forth, playoff style game in October where Elias Lindholm scored a dramatic tying goal and Johnny Gaudreau scored the winner in overtime – effectively a template for the third period heroics the team has become defined by in 2018-19.
- A 6-5 home win in November where the Flames trailed 4-1 after two periods and staged a dramatic comeback to win in regulation.
- An assured, composed 5-3 win in January where the Flames never trailed.
In short: the Avalanche seem to bring the best out of the Flames. The Avs’ goaltending runs hot and cold and they’re missing some key pieces – no Gabriel Landeskog really hurts their high-end depth – but their playing style meshes well with how the Flames play and lends itself towards more of the up-tempo run-and-gun style that they excel at.
Take Them or Leave Them: Minnesota Wild
The Flames have won two of three games head-to-head with the Wild this season. The games were all tight-checking contests ultimately swung by the Flames’ goaltending:
- Mike Smith made 31 saves in a 2-0 shutout win in December.
- David Rittich made 34 saves in a 2-1 win a week later.
- Smith had some challenges in a 4-2 loss in March on the night the Flames retired Jarome Iginla’s number.
The Wild’s playing style more than their team’s roster creates challenges for the Flames. Under Bruce Boudreau they’ve cemented themselves as a tight-checking, defensively-focused, counter-punch team that jumps on the mistakes made by the opposition but otherwise doesn’t give their attacks much daylight. If their goaltending is better than yours, you’re in trouble, and Devan Dubnyk is capable of stealing a game (or two) and swinging a series by himself.
Prefer to Avoid: Dallas Stars
The Flames lost all three of their meetings with the Stars during the regular season, losing twice in regulation and once in overtime. As with their games against the Wild, the match-ups were tight.
The Flames have struggled with the Stars’ speed, size and ability to defend the net-front area. They’re constructed similarly to the Flames, in terms of emphasizing puck movement and getting contributions from smart, mobile defensive group. That added element of speed makes them particularly deep and dangerous, and creates the potential for games to get out of hand very quickly.
Desperate to Avoid: Vegas Golden Knights
The Flames split the season series with the Golden Knights, with each team winning the two games they hosted in their home rink. The Golden Knights are a fast, up-tempo team that boasts a really impressive top six forward group and strong goaltending.
If Flames face them in first round, it’s because they’ve collapsed down the stretch and fell to second place in the Pacific Division. One of the big reasons Flames want to finish first is to face the winner of a probable meeting between the San Jose Sharks and the Golden Knights. Facing a fresh Golden Knights team is a very tall order based on how they’re constructed.