The term 'must win' is often overused throughout the course of the season but it is entirely appropriate to describe Vancouver's current situation. If they don't find a way to rebounce from back-to-back lackluster losses in Calgary that has pushed them to the brink of elimination, then there is no tomorrow for them as far as the 2015 playoffs are concerned. It's not the first time the Canucks have found themselves in this situation historically as they have overcome 3-1 series deficits on three occasions but you'd have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last time they've done so.
The Canucks will have a new look lineup for tonight's do-or-die contest which includes ex-Flame Sven Baerstchi making his NHL playoff debut. Alex Burrows, according to Coach Desjardins, will be out for the remainder of the series while Brad Richardson will be a game-time decision. Although it hasn't been officially confirmed by the club, a late report surfaced on Wednesday that indicated Ryan Miller will get the call between the pipes in Game 5. The seasoned playoff veteran made his post-season debut for Vancouver in Game 4 stopping all 15 shots he faced in relief of starter Eddie Lack.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on CBC, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
2015 Playoff Record
Trail 1-3 Lead 3-1
All-time Playoff Record
All-time Playoff head-to-head
2014.15 Regular Season Record
If you tried to form an opinion on Game 4 solely by looking at the stats sheet, you might come to the conclusion that the Canucks were unlucky not to win. The stats sheet will suggest Vancouver had the edge territorially out-shooting Calgary 29-22 while dominating when it came to overall shot attempts (shots + attempts blocked + missed shots) holding a 70-38 advantage in that category. What the stats sheet won't show, however, is the fact the Flames pretty much managed to stifle any offensive attack the Canucks had for the majority of that contest despite what the numbers indicate. After their early power play marker - a fortuitous bounce at that - the Canucks had only a handful of Grade A scoring chances (most of them came in the latter stages of the third period), virtually no odd-man rushes and, once again, spent much of the night hemmed in their own zone because of a very aggressive, physical forecheck by the Flames.
The key for the Flames tonight will be to keep playing the way they did in Games 3 and 4 in tonight's potentially series-clinching Game 5. It means continuing to throw their weight around even though they won't have the advantage of having the crowd behind them, as well as keeping the Canucks to the perimeter with their shot attempts. The Flames' prowess when it comes to blocking shots throughout the season has been much ballyhooed but perhaps the best indication of the effect it has had comes when you look at how it has virtually eliminated the Canucks' blue-line as an offensive factor. In Game 4, Vancouver blue-liners combined for just one shot on goal while having 10 blocked and six miss the net. By comparison, Calgary blue-liners combined for six shots on goal – including one that didn't count as a shot but led directly to Hudler's eventual game-winner – with only four shots blocked and just two go off-target. One of the biggest differences that separates the Flames and Canucks in this series is that the Flames' defencemen have managed to be an offensive catalyst while the same can't be said of the Canucks' blue-liners.
Keys to the Game
Pucks need to get on net. Jonas Hiller has had his shaky moments and given up juicy rebounds at times in this series but a lot of his problems are masked by the wall of bodies that constantly seems to be around him. Calgary has blocked 94 shots so far in this series. Vancouver has to do a better job finding a way of getting that puck on net and getting to the rebounds first.
The goaltending provides a lift. Whether it's Eddie Lack or Ryan Miller who gets the call Vancouver's goaltending has to help the team build confidence, not rattle it. That means shutting the door early, ideally long enough for the Canucks to actually build a lead, and certainly not giving up any so-called softies.
Find another gear. It's hard to imagine the Flames playing any better than they did in Games 3 & 4 tonight but this is their first crack at eliminating the Canucks. As the saying goes, the fourth win is often the toughest. The Canucks should be desperate and at their best tonight. The Flames need to be as well if they want to put this series to bed.
By the Numbers
All-time series win percentage for the Canucks when trailing 3-1 in a best-of-7 playoff series (3-6; 1-0 vs. CGY).
All-time win percentage for the Canucks in playoff games when facing potential elimination (22-26).
Win percentage for the Canucks this season, including playoffs, without Alex Burrows in the lineup (7-4-1 reg. season, 0-1 playoffs).
All-time series win percentage for the Flames when leading 3-1 in a best-of-7 playoff series (3-1; 2 series ended in Game 5).
Penalty kill success rate so far for the Canucks (4 goals allowed on 11 times shorthanded). They were a perfect 11-for-11 vs. CGY in the regular season.
All-time series win percentage for teams that hold a 3-1 lead in a best-of-7 Stanley Cup playoff series (249-27).