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PLAYERS TO WATCH - GAME 1

Three players to keep an eye on Thursday in Anaheim

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

The Flames know what to expect.

They have faced the Anaheim Ducks enough to understand what they're up against come Thursday night when the puck drops in Game 1 of their opening round playoff match-up.

Yes, the Ducks' physical, grinding style of play presents a challenge but the Flames are a confident group, with a steadfast belief in the systems that have brought them this far this year.

"They finished higher in the standings, but I've liked the way we've played in the last three, four months," head coach Glen Gulutzan said earlier this week.

"I like our record. I like the way we've played. I like the way we've come back out of our start. We are the underdog in the series, but I think it's going to be a heck of a series."

Here are three players to watch in Game 1:

SEAN MONAHAN

After a rocky start to the year, the 22-year-old was able to get his game in order in the second half of the campaign and closed out the season on a high note. Since Mar 1., Monahan has seven goals and 18 points - leading all Flames skaters. He wrapped up the year second in team scoring with 27 goals and 58 points through 82 skates and has now surpassed the 50-point mark for three consecutive seasons.

Monahan's SAT% sits at 50.27 heading into the postseason, an improvement from 2015-16 (48.19%) and 2014-15 (45.43%). With him driving the play more this year, he is expected to go head-to-head with Ryan Kesler's line throughout this series - a challenge he relishes.

"Every time I step on the ice, he's jumping on the ice too," he noted. "We know that as a group, we know that as a line. Our job is to be better than the guys we're going up against. It's going to be a challenge but it's something we're ready for."

BRIAN ELLIOTT

Like Monahan, Elliott is coming off of a strong second half of the season. The veteran netminder was crucial in the team's ability to push their way into the postseason, going 18-5-1 with a 2.20 GAA and a .926 save percentage since Jan. 26. During that time frame, only Washington's Braden Holtby posted more wins (19) than Elliott.

Elliott is also a proven playoff performer, posting a 2.49 GAA and a .911 save percentage in 37 postseason appearances in his career.

"He's been there and he's been there with expectations of big things coming out of St. Louis,'' Gulutzan said. "He's performed under pressure. 

"Those things are all important this time of the year, especially the first round. I was talking with Gelly (Martin Gelinas) and it's a jungle, the first round. It's intense.

"You need to stay composed and it's good to have a guy that's been through that."

DOUGIE HAMILTON

When it came to advancing the play, no Flames defenceman did it more effectively than Hamilton during the regular season. His five-on-five SAT% (55.65) led all Calgary blueliners and sat fifth among NHL defenceman with 50-or-more games this year. He also set new career-highs with 13 goals, 37 assists and 50 points through 81 games. His 222 shots led all Flames skaters and he led all Calgary defencemen with 5 game-winning goals, 17 primary assists and a 1.88 points-per-60-minutes average.

While these totals are impressive on their own, what makes Hamilton's accomplishments even more notable how Gulutzan utilized him throughout the year. The coaching staff regularly put the Hamilton and Mark Giordano pairing on the ice against their opponents' top lines and the duo were given some of the toughest even-strength zone among Flames skaters: Hamilton sat fifth with 427 of his starts coming in the defensive zone.

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