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FLAMES & DUCKS SET FOR FEISTY FIRST ROUND BATTLE

The Pacific Division rivals will face off in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

As owner/operator of his very own Tunnel of Death (retreating down the boards, angling off his prey, inching closer, closer, closer, before … splat!), Robyn Regehr figures the Flames can conquer their personal Chamber of Horrors.

"Personally,'' says the rollickingly-robust retired defenceman, looking ahead to Round 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup playdowns, "I love the match-up with Anaheim.

"First of all, I don't like Anaheim.

"Second, I think it'll be good for the Flames to have to face the beast right in Anaheim. It'll bring out the best in them."

Much will doubtless be made in the short build-up to Game 1 of Calgary's mounting failures at the Honda Center. The last time they clawed a regular-season win out there was - as if anyone in this town needed reminding - Jan. 14th, 2004.

In actuality, though, they did dump the Ducks 5-2 at the-then Arrowhead Pond two years later, on April 25, first round of post-season playtime, to take a 2-1 lead in a series they'd eventual lose in the maximum seven games.

Regehr certainly hasn't forgotten. He notched the last of his three career playoff goals that particular night.

"In playoffs,'' reminds Regehr, a Stanley Cup winner modelling L.A. Kings' trendy black and silver in 2014, "you can throw the spread sheets and tendencies out the window.

"Playoffs are an entirely different animal. Especially the first round. That's why you see so many upsets and such great hockey in the first round.

"If there was ever a time to get rid of a stigma, to get that gorilla or Godzilla or whatever it is in regards to that building in Anaheim off their backs, playoffs would be it."

There'll certainly be an abundance of skill on view (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Dougie Hamilton, Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzalf, Jakob Silfverberg, Hampus Lindholm), two inspirational captains (Mark Giordano and Getzlaf), and a construction-site full of sandpaper (Matthew Tkachuk, Corey Perry).

You've got Micheal Ferland battling with an old adversary, Kevin Bieksa, and the goaltending duel of the ultra-hot Brian Elliott vs. the Ducks' duo of Jonathan Bernier/John Gibson. Oh, and Ryan Kesler vs. Southern Alberta.

Centre Joel Otto, a linchpin part of Calgary's '89 title team here, doesn't view past history as a decisive factor in what lies ahead.

"I watched the last game in Anaheim and I thought they outplayed 'em,'' says the Calgary Hitmen assistant coach. "They're saying the right things and I think they're got enough new guys who don't think about any kind of streak.

"It's always brought up - not to blame the media, it's a stat that won't go away - but to them I'm sure it doesn't mean a lot.

"If they feel they match up well in their heads and their hearts, believe they can play 'em tough, that's great."

The iconic Lanny McDonald agrees.

"All the pressure,'' reasons No. 9, "will be on Anaheim anyway.

"If you ever went in there and snapped 'em in that first game? Think of the pressure they'd be under then. Then they'd be the ones answering questions.

"So I don't mind the match-up at all. I know everybody would've been thrilled to see a Calgary-Edmonton series.

"I guess we can save that for Round 2.

"I certainly wanted them to avoid Chicago right off the bat. Even though they've got all those rookies, they just have the playoffs down pat, are built for this time of year.

"Just too dangerous.

"Look at their defence corps: as good as you'll find.

"With Anaheim, there's more animosity already stored up. Especially after the last couple times they played. That bodes well heading into the playoffs. You don't like each other right off the get-to, and the fact the guys answered the bell when all the rough stuff started - in fact they were going right after it and probably initiated as much as the Ducks did - makes it perfect."

On Nov. 12, the Flames found themselves 5-10-1 and languishing near the bottom of the NHL standings.

Since then, they've been the equal of anyone.

"I'm not in the dressing room, so I don't know what goes on day-to-day,'' says Otto, "but I'm here with Nieuwy (Joe Nieuwendyk) at this event (Gordie Howe CARES) this weekend and I know he thinks the world of Glen Gulutzan.

"Sometimes it takes time to implement new ideas, new systems and Glen, Dave (Cameron), Paul (Jerrard) along with Marty (Gelinas) stuck with it and it's gotten turned around.

"This is a good, exciting young group.

"Playoffs is all about playing for each other and going through the wall for each other and I'm sure this team has those attributes."

Ducks-Flames.

Almost seems pre-ordained.

"As a series,'' says Regehr enthusiastically, "it has a lot of things in play. 

"You have the Flames inability to win in their building. Divisional rival. Bad blood. All the stuff that went on the last game in here and then back there.

"It's intense anyway. Playoffs only amplifies intensity.

"Don't sell the Flames short.

"I don't just think it'll be a good series. I think it'll be a great series."

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