I think we’ve got a lot to offer in the playoffs but it’ll be determined. We’ve got to show a lot, too. As a young group we’re excited for this opportunity. We’re not going to take it for granted and we’re going to go after them. - Kris Russell
The Calgary Flames will clash with the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they don’t mind seeing their Pacific Division rival one bit.
In fact, Calgary welcomes the challenge.
“I think we’re excited for the opportunity,” alternate captain Kris Russell said. “Obviously we have a challenge in Vancouver. They’re a well-coached team, a good team. I think we’re excited. We believe in our group. I think we’ve got a lot to offer in the playoffs but it’ll be determined. We’ve got to show a lot, too. As a young group we’re excited for this opportunity. We’re not going to take it for granted and we’re going to go after them.”
But it’s a matchup, as coach Bob Hartley was quick to point out, the Flames didn’t pick.
And if they want to chase the Stanley Cup, Calgary will have to go through plenty of clubs to get there.
“We don’t choose our schedules. Remember when we were talking about those nine-day road trips or those three games in four nights. We don’t choose schedules. We don’t choose opponents. We worked hard to be in the playoffs and history of the past years have shown that as long as you’re one of 16, you have a chance, you have a shot at the ultimate goal. That’s where we’re at.
“We will basically have to beat them all if we want to drink champagne. We have the utmost respect for the 15 other teams who will make the playoffs and lets drop the puck.”
There’s plenty of reason for the Flames to feel confident heading into the seven-game set against the Canucks, though.
Calgary took the season series (2-1-1) and has won two straight heading into the postseason matchup.
“I think we’ve matched up against them well,” rookie forward Josh Jooris said. “We’re similar teams. They’ve got some skilled guys. They’re a pretty deep lineup and have some good puck moving, big defencemen. It’ll be a good matchup. We’re going to focus, we’re going to handle our video and behind-the-scenes stuff and prepare for them and try our best to be ready to go.”
The stat lines between the two teams are similar.
Vancouver, who will open the series with home-ice advantage, finished regular season action with a 48-29-5 record to reach 99 points. The Flames count with 97 points by way of a 45-30-7 mark. The Canucks wrapped up with 42 wins in regulation and overtime to Calgary's 41, too.
Vancouver won 24 games at home; Calgary 23, while the Canucks also took 24 on the road. The Flames had 22.
Goal scoring was equally as close.
Over 82 games, only one goal separates the two teams. Vancouver, with 242, edged out Calgary's 241. Only the St. Louis Blues had more goals in the West. Calgary allowed fewer goals in the regular season, giving up 216. Vancouver’s goaltending tandem of Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack surrendered 222.
The special teams battle is surprisingly similar as well.
The Canucks operated with the eighth-best power play in the National Hockey League in 2014-15, clicking at a 19.3 percent success rate. With the man-advantage, Calgary worked with an 18.8 percent efficiency.
It will be put to the test with Vancouver’s penalty kill. At 85.7 percent, only the Minnesota Wild were stingier with a man in the penalty box. Comparatively, the Flames clicked at 80.6 but actually allowed fewer goals at 16. The Canucks surrendered 18.
The comparables have set the stage for an intriguing opening round matchup.
“In years past there have been some good battles and we expect the same,” Russell said. “We expect a tough challenge. They’re a good team. I think we’re ready for it. We’re looking forward to it.
“We need a big push.”