The Calgary Flames were one of the best teams in the NHL during the regular season when it came to generating offense and creating scoring chances.
That wasn't the case during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Colorado Avalanche flipped the script against Calgary and is now preparing for Round 2 after winning the best-of-seven series in five games.
The Flames were tied for the second-most goals at the conclusion of the main campaign with 289 and averaged 32.4 shots per game, but they were outshot in the final four games of the series (all Avalanche wins) and only mustered more than two goals in a contest once: a 4-0 win in the first contest.
"I liked our defending mentality through the whole series," said head coach Jared Bednar. "I thought we got much more competitive on the offensive side of things starting in Game 2, and we continued that through the series."
Calgary finished the regular season with a 53.82 shot-attempts-for percentage during full-strength play, fifth highest in the NHL, but had a hard time generating close to those numbers against Colorado. The Western Conference regular-season champions only managed a 42.09-percentage in Round 1, second worst in the NHL entering Monday night's games.
Colorado presently has the fourth highest mark in the playoffs at 54.94 percent, the highest mark among teams that have presently advanced to Round 2.
"We're being aggressive," said Nathan MacKinnon. "Guys are involved and having a shooting mentality."
The Carolina Hurricanes (60.15) and Nashville Predators (56.44) both have better numbers than the Avs, but each club faces a possible elimination game on Monday. The Pittsburgh Penguins' are third on the list at 54.75 percent, but they were swept in four games by the New York Islanders in their opening-round set.
"We're encouraging our guys to get in scoring areas, to get inside the dots, don't overpass," Bednar said. "[The Flames] do a really good job packing it in in front of their net. Their sticks are real active and good, and they track back hard in the middle of the ice so you don't want to overpass it when you get the opportunity to get inside the dots and get in the scoring area. Whether we get their first screen or not, you got to try to use their team as a screen sometimes too."
The Avalanche outscored the Flames 17-11 in the series and averaged 41 shots per game, currently the highest during the NHL postseason. Colorado outshot Calgary 56-29 in its 6-2 victory in Game 3 and then had a 52-37 edge in a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 4. The 56 shots in Game 3 were the most ever in a regulation playoff contest in franchise history, and the 108 combined pucks fired on net over the two contests were the most in a two-game span during the postseason since the team entered the NHL in 1979.
In the Avs' 3-2 overtime win in Game 2, they only had a 39-37 edge in shots on goal but had 23 more total attempts than the Flames (84-61). It was the start of a three-game stretch that had Colorado hold 57.91 percent of the total 5-on-5 shots attempted.
"We talked about it after Game 1, we got shutout in Calgary, and we talked about what we can do a little better," Rantanen said. "Probably get more shots and that's what we've been doing the last couple games. A lot of shots are from rebounds too."
The Avalanche's attack mentality was two-fold: firing more shots on Flames netminder Mike Smith and driving to the front of the goal to try and knock in any possible caromed pucks. That net-front presence was how J.T. Compher scored late to force overtime in Game 2 (rebound) and then how Compher (rebound) and Rantanen (deflection) registered markers to erase a two-goal deficit in the third period for Colorado of Game 4.
Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: Compher buries tying goal late in 3rd
"I think we're just really hungry on the pucks. We stop at the net and a lot of shots are from rebounds," Rantanen said after Game 4. "We get rebound chances, like J.T. scored the first goal, and that's our mentality. We want to get a lot of shots on this guy. He's a good goalie, but I think if we crash the net at all, there's rebounds."
At the same time, the Avalanche didn't spend much time in its own end of the ice. The Avs were quick to drive possession out of the defensive zone given the shots-on-goal and shots-attempted differentials between the clubs throughout the series.
It was central to Colorado clearing the puck and creating offense on the transition throughout the contests and was especially key to developing the overtime-winning goals in Game 2 by MacKinnon and Game 4 by Rantanen.
Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: MacKinnon wins it after Grubauer save
Video: CGY@COL, Gm4: Rantanen one-times home overtime winner
"We were ending plays in our D-zone quickly and transitioning to play offense," Compher said. "That not only creates offense for us, but it's frustrating for them."
The Avalanche's attack mentality was one of the reasons why the team was able to generate offense against the Flames. It was also based on necessity as Smith's solid play throughout the series kept Calgary within striking distance and forced Colorado to keep finding creative ways to beat him with the puck.
It's unknown if the Avs will have the same success in creating shots in the second round against their yet to be determined opponent--they'll play the winner of Tuesday's Game 7 matchup in San Jose between the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights--but it worked in cooling the Flames.
"A lot of the things we've been building towards all year I think came into play in the series. It was a good series--our guys played real hard and earned a victory," Bednar said. "Now we'll turn the page and move on to the next one."