The chase for Lord Stanley's Cup ratchets up to a new high tonight when the Canucks and Flames open the 2015 playoffs with Game 1 at Rogers Arena.
It's been a good number of years since the Canucks and Flames last met in a game with as much significance as there will be tonight. But even though it's been some time since this rivalry was at its height, it won't take long for the hostility to reach a fever pitch once the puck drops for the opening game. Both the Canucks and Flames, who split their regular season series with two wins each, know the importance of starting a series strong. The winner of Game 1 has won four of the six previous series between the clubs.
While neither team has confirmed their lineup, it appears the Canucks will get both Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson back to begin their playoff run. The Flames, meanwhile, may not have top-scorer Sean Monahan available to them. Monahan left their practice yesterday early after missing the previous day's session. He did, for what it's worth, declare himself fit to play. Calgary's 2014 first-round pick Sam Bennett, who made his NHL debut in the Flames' regular season finale, is likely to draw in at the expense of ex-Canuck Mason Raymond. Eddie Lack and Jonas Hillers are the expected starters for their respective clubs.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on CBC, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
2015 Playoff Record
Tied 0-0 Tied 0-0
All-time Playoff Record
All-time Playoff head-to-head
2014.15 Regular Season Record
When it comes to goals scored, it was fairly even during the regular season series between the Canucks and Flames with Vancouver holding a slim 9-8 advantage over the four games. When it came to shots and shot attempts (shots + attempts blocked + missed shots), however, the advantage was clearly in the Canucks' favour. Vancouver out-shot Calgary by a combined 131-110 and led in overall shot attempts by a combined 253-200. In fact, Vancouver led in shot attempts in all four of the head-to-head meetings even though it was the Flames that emerged victorious in the final two contests. Those are statistics the Flames will want to turn around in this series because, if they don't, the laws of probability suggests it's only a matter of time before the Canucks break through on the scoreboard.
So what do the Flames need to do to turn things around? Controlling the puck is one part of it and for that they'll be counting on their top forwards such as Hudler, Monahan and Gaudreau to carry the play whenever they're on the ice. It also means not getting caught out for long shifts, especially when it comes to their defencemen. That's where things get a bit interesting. Bob Hartley's go-to-guys has been the defensive pairing of Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman. They've been even more crucial for the team since the season-ending injury to team captain Mark Giordano. Both are also offensive catalysts with Wideman leading all team defencemen with a career-high 56 points this season and Russell also setting a career-best with 34 points on the campaign. Both, however, are "fancy stats" nightmares. Both were among the league-worst when it came to SAT (shots attempts at 5-on-5) numbers with Russell finishing at -414 and Wideman at -420. Deryk Engelland (-356) and TJ Brodie (-265), the Flames' second pairing, didn't fare much better. To put that in perspective, the worst Canuck D-man when it came to SAT number was Ryan Stanton at -145 albeit in just 54 games played.
Keys to the Game
The twins lead by example. Henrik and Daniel Sedin are two of the most experienced and decorated playoff players in franchise history and any success the Canucks have in this series will be because of those two. They'll want to get off to a quick start offensively and not have to deal with the questions about goal scoring struggles.
Let's get physical. Neither the Canucks nor the Flames had a reputation for being a hard-hitting team but Vancouver knows a thing or two about how intense post-season hockey is. The Canucks need to give the Flames a rude awakening to the physicality of the playoffs, targeting in particular their younger, smaller forwards.
Don't do too much. There may be a temptation to try something new or do something out of your comfort zone when you make the transition from regular season hockey to playoff hockey. But the Flames can't forget the reasons why they're at the dance when 14 other teams are not. They have to stick with what has made them successful all season long.
By the Numbers
Players involved in the 2004 VAN-CGY series that will play in this series: Henrik & Daniel Sedin.
Straight home playoff losses for the Canucks dating back to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Total games played by Flames rookie Sam Bennett this season (15 in the OHL, 1 in the NHL).
Power play efficiency rate for the Canucks in their last dozen games since March 21 (11-for-33).
Career playoff game for Henrik Sedin tonight.
Penalty kill success rate for the Canucks in their regular season series against the Flames (11-for-11).