THEY HAVE A HISTORY
The Flames took all three meetings against the Avalanche this year, and vastly outplayed Colorado in the first two, especially. The three-game set began back on Oct. 13 at the Pepsi Center, when Johnny Gaudreau scored the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory. Elias Lindholm tied the game with the goalie pulled, and Sam Bennett got his first of the season earlier in regulation, as the Flames took over, had all nine of the high-danger scoring chances in the final two periods, and outshot the homeside 41-26 overall.
In their next meeting - the first of two at the Scotiabank Saddledome - the Flames rallied from a 4-1 deficit with five unanswered goals in the third period en route to a 6-5 victory. Mark Giordano (1G, 3A) led the way offensively, while Matthew Tkachuk (3A), Mikael Backlund (1G, 1A) and Sean Monahan (1G, 1A) also had multi-point efforts in the win. While the score may suggest otherwise, it was another lopsided affair firmly in Calgary's favour, with the Flames dominating possession from the drop of the puck and finishing with more than twice the number of quality looks and all kinds of action in front of the net, as illustrated below:
In their final meeting of the regular season on Jan. 9, the Avs had the edge in possession, but despite manufacturing 55.5% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts and winning the high-danger chance battle by an ever-so-slim margin (5-4), the Flames once again came on top, 5-3. Giordano had another monster outing with three helpers in the victory, while Backlund, Tkachuk, Michael Frolik and Elias Lindholm supplied the goals.
David Rittich got the nod in the first and third games of the series, posting a .918 save percentage (56 of 61) in two victories.
These two teams have never met in the playoffs.
Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
WHAT TO EXPECT: HIGH-POWERED OFFENCE
The Flames are the only team in the NHL this year to boast five players with 70 or more points, led - of course - by Gaudreau, who finished the regular season with career-high 99. Gaudreau is joined by an all-star cast, including fellow top-line pillars Sean Monahan (34-48-82), Elias Lindholm (27-51-78), along with Matthew Tkachuk (34-43-77) and 35-year-old Norris-frontrunner Mark Giordano (17-57-74).
The Avalanche, of course, counter with an equally potent top trio, with Nathan MacKinnon (99), Mikko Rantanen (87) and captain Gabriel Landeskog (75) combining for 261 points. (It should be noted that Rantanen missed the final eight games of the regular season with an undisclosed injury, but the Avs are "hopeful" the talented Finn will be ready for Game 1.)
However, much of their production came via the powerplay (37% of their points were scored on the PP, compared to 29 for Calgary's top unit), which kept a middling-to-below-average 5-on-5 team afloat and in the playoff race all year.
Both teams - clearly - have the top-end talent to make any game a thriller offensively, but the depth on Lines 2 through 4 gave the Flames the edge in almost any matchup, all season.
From the elite, '3M' shutdown faction (Backlund, Tkachuk and Frolik), to the second-half emergence of the gritty 'DAG Line' (Andrew Mangiapane, Derek Ryan and Garnet Hathaway), contributions from up and down the lineup earned the Flames their first division title in 13 years.
Backlund, Frolik and Mark Jankowski all finished with 30-plus points, while playoff brute Bennett likely would have, if not for a set of late-season injuries.
Those on the backend also made a significant impact, with Giordano (74 points), TJ Brodie (34) and Noah Hanifin (33) all producing at a great clip.
The Avs, meanwhile, have only Carl Soderberg (49 points), Alexander Kerfoot (42) and J.T. Compher 32) above the 30-point plateau at forward. On the blueline, though, powerplay specialist Tyson Barrie had another outstanding campaign, setting a new career high with 59 points (14G, 45A) - 25 of which came with the man-advantage.
With Barrie, MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog, it's no surprise the Avalanche have the seventh-best powerplay at 22%.
Video: Giordano, Flames post 5-3 win against Avalanche
THE GOALIE MATCHUP
Neither team has confirmed their starting goaltender for Game 1, but if recent history is any indication, Mike Smith and Philipp Grubauer could be in line for the matchup.
Smith has gotten the call in the nine of past 15 for Calgary, including Saturday's final regular-season tune-up against the Edmonton Oilers. In that span dating back to March 7, the veteran had a 4-4 record, a .914 save percentage and a sparkling 1.91 goals-against average.
Grubauer also shone in that time frame, posting a ridiculous 8-1 record, a 9.55 save percentage and 1.51 goals-against average (second only to Ben Bishop in the latter two categories).
Both teams have used both goaltenders in a fairly even split of the duties all year, so stay tuned.
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KEY STORYLINE: KEEPING IT EVEN
The Avs' powerplay has feasted on teams all year, but if the Flames are able stay out of the box roll four lines on a consistent basis, they will have a considerable advantage.
Five-on-five, the Flames ended the regular season fifth in possession at 53.8%, and produced high-danger chances at a Top 10 rate (11.45/60 minutes, 9th). The Avalanche, meanwhile, are average in both, finishing 14th in possession at 49.86%, and 19th in HDCF/60 with 10.89.
Video: Gaudreau's breakaway goal lifts Flames in OT, 3-2
Flames - 289 (3rd) / 223 (9th)
Avs - 258 (10th) / 244 (16th)
Points - Johnny Gaudreau (99)
Goals - Gaudreau (36)
Points - Nathan MacKinnon (99)
Goals - MacKinnon (41)
Flames - 19.3 (18th)
Avs - 22.0 (7th)
Flames - 79.7 (21st)
Avs - 78.7 (25th)
Team save percentage:
Flames - 903 (21st)
Avs - .907 (12th)
Corsi (shot attempts for/against):
Flames - 53.83% (5th)
Avs - 49.86 (14th)
Scoring chances for/against:
Flames - 53.53% (5th)
Avs - 51.24 (13th)
High-danger chances for/against:
Flames - 52.93 (10th)
Avs - 49.89 (18th)