Rewind quickly to the 2014 playoffs for the Anaheim Ducks. Jonas Hiller, a proud veteran of the National Hockey League and an Olympian for Switzerland, is passed over twice in the second round in favor of younger goaltenders by head coach Bruce Boudreau. In game seven, Boudreau once again passes on Hiller in favor of a 21-year old rookie named John Gibson. By the time Hiller comes in to relieve Gibson in that game, the damage is already done.
Think he remembers that moment?
With seven seasons at hockey’s highest level under his belt, Hiller surely carries with him a certain level of professional pride, so getting left out of the lineup in the Ducks’ biggest game of the season had to have stung.
Fast forward a a year later, and Hiller has an opportunity to exact revenge on a coach and a club that basically gave up on him after he had already proven his worth. He was welcomed with open arms in Calgary and has the full support of his coaching staff. Clearly, Hiller will be ready to go once the puck drops on round two.
For the Anaheim Ducks, the Swiss netminder presents a new kind of challenge that they never had to contend with against Winnipeg: a goaltender that can steal games. It’s well documented that Calgary doesn’t exactly dominate possession-wise, yet they are an opportunistic club that can manufacture grimy playoff goals.
Add a goaltender of Hiller’s caliber into the mix, and you have all the makings of a potential upset in round two.
Ducks Need Early Intensity To Overcome Hiller
What can the Ducks do to avoid this doomsday scenario? First and foremost, ignore all the nonsense about neither of these teams not wanting to play with the lead. Sure, it was great that Anaheim was able to come back three times in round one, but it’s simply not a winning equation when the goalie in the opposing net isn’t named Ondrej Pavelec.
Anaheim needs to bring the same offensive intensity in the first period that they usually reserve for later in the game. When they’re clicking, the Ducks can look almost unstoppable offensively with a blitz of aggressive attacks through the neutral zone. They’ve got the skill and the speed to overpower teams, and their greatness in doing so maybe explains why they wait until their backs are against the wall.
Boudreau said it himself in a recent article in the Orange County Register; you simply can’t win games in the NHL sitting on leads. For the Ducks to not become the latest victims of the Calgary miracle, they’ll have to implement that philosophy to the fullest.
With a vengeful, yet familiar face staring them down through a cat-eye cage, that task won’t be an easy one. If the Ducks are up to it though, even a Herculean effort from Hiller won’t be enough to stop Anaheim’s offensive juggernaut.