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Flames vs. Avalanche playoff preview

Calgary looking for consistent goaltending; Colorado counting on top line

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_NHL / NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

Flames: 50-25-7, 107 points, first in Pacific

Avalanche: 38-30-14, 90 points, second wild card in Western Conference

Season series: CGY 3-0-0; COL 0-2-1

 

[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

The skinny

The Calgary Flames will play the Colorado Avalanche in what each expects will be a series full of speed and scoring opportunities in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's been good games every time we have played them (in the regular season)," Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "I would imagine this will be a fast-paced series."

Video: Previewing the Avalanche-Flames First Round series

The Flames won each of the three games against the Avalanche this season, outscoring them 14-10, including scoring 11 goals in the final two games.

It is the first time the teams have met in the postseason.

Mark Giordano, who finished second in the NHL in scoring among defensemen with 74 points (17 goals, 57 assists), led Calgary with seven points (one goal, six assists) and forward Elias Lindholm scored in each of the three games against Colorado. David Rittich started two games for the Flames, allowing five goals on 61 shots (.918 save percentage). Veteran Mike Smith made 21 saves in a 6-5 victory Nov. 1.

"We have a talented group up and down the lineup. We've got some great depth, we've got some stars, some great goaltending, great D, great forwards," Harmonic said. "We've got a really good team. We are super excited to get going."

Forward Gabriel Landeskog led Colorado with four points (one goal, three assists) in three games against Calgary, and Nathan MacKinnon had two goals. Semyon Varlamov started each of the three games, going 0-2-1 with a 4.44 goals-against average and an .860 save percentage.

"They are a great team and they are going to be a huge challenge," Avalanche defenseman Ian Cole said. "They are very dangerous and we need to be on our toes every shift."

The last time the Flames finished first in the Western Conference was 1988-89 (won Stanley Cup).

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Flames clinch Western Conference

 

Game breakers

Flames: Giordano controls the game at both ends for Calgary. The defenseman plays 24:14 per game, almost three minutes more than any teammate (TJ Brodie, 21:28), and the Flames have registered 371 more shots than they have allowed when he is on the ice, the greatest differential on the team.

Avalanche: Last season, MacKinnon was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player. This season, he has arguably been better. He has an NHL career-high 99 points (41 goals, 58 assists), 12 more than Mikko Rantanen. Nobody on the Avalanche plays more (22:05) or drives play more effectively; his SAT relative is second on the team at 4.92 and the Avalanche have registered 161 more shots than they have allowed when he is on the ice.

 

Goaltending

Flames: The Flames have alternated goalies throughout the season, but Smith is the experienced goalie and will likely get the nod to start the series. Although his season numbers are not gaudy (23-16-2, 2.73 GAA and .898 save percentage in 42 appearances), he has been better late in the season, with a 1.94 GAA and .916 save percentage in his final 11 starts. David Rittich went 27-9-5 with a 2.61 GAA and .911 save percentage in 45 games.

Avalanche: Philipp Grubauer has taken over the starting job with a red-hot final two months of the season. Since Feb. 23, Grubauer has gone 9-2-2 with a .956 save percentage as the Avalanche clawed their way into the final wild card. Varlamov has played at least 49 regular-season games in six of the past eight seasons but has played in seven playoff games since joining Colorado for the 2011-12 season.

 

Numbers to know

Flames: Calgary is the only team in the postseason to have five players with at least 70 points: Johnny Gaudreau (99), Sean Monahan (82), Lindholm (78), Matthew Tkachuk (77) and Giordano. Its plus-62 goal differential leads the Western Conference and is second in the NHL to the Tampa Bay Lightning (plus-103). The Flames allow an NHL-low 28.1 shots per game.

Avalanche: Colorado's top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog has accounted for 106 of the team's 258 goals (41.1 percent). The Avalanche are a slow-starting team. They have scored 59 goals in the first period but have scored 93 in the second period and 103 in the third. Colorado is 16-8-6 since Feb. 6, its 38 points in that span tied for sixth-best in the NHL. The Avalanche win 48.3 percent of their faceoffs, which ranks 26th in the NHL.

 

Injury report

Flames: Monahan did not play in the final regular-season game Saturday because of an illness but is expected to play in Game 1. Tkachuk also missed the final game for maintenance and will play in Game 1.

Avalanche: Rantanen missed the final eight games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. He has been skating in a non-contact jersey this week and could be ready for Game 1. Center Vladislav Kamenev hasn't played since Dec. 8 because of shoulder surgery but has started skating recently.

 

They said it

"We are the type of team that needs to have that emotion and work ethic in place to be successful. I think now that the stakes get raised and we go into the playoffs, we'll see that again." -- Flames coach Bill Peters

"I loved our habits and determination down the stretch. To sort of kick down the front door and get into the playoffs and go 8-0-2 down the stretch is a real good sign. So we should be confident. We know we are playing a real good opponent and there are going to be challenges. I think we are in a good spot and I like what we are doing right now." -- Avalanche coach Jared Bednar

 

Will win if …

Flames: They get proper goaltending. If Smith or Rittich get in a groove, the Flames are going to be hard to beat. They have too many offensive weapons to be undone by anything other than sub-par goaltending. Rittich has never played in the playoffs and Smith last appeared in the postseason in 2012, as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Avalanche: They can turn this into a battle of special teams game. The Avalanche are deadly on the power play, converting at 22.0 percent (seventh in NHL). Calgary, meanwhile, has lost its way with the man advantage in the final month, converting at an NHL-worst 6.1 percent since March 1. Still, Colorado will have to be better on the penalty kill after going 78.7 percent, 25th in the NHL, in the regular season.

 

How they look

Flames projected lineup

Johnny Gaudreau -- Sean Monahan -- Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk -- Mikael Backlund -- Michael Frolik

Sam Bennett -- Mark Jankowski -- James Neal

Andrew Mangiapane -- Derek Ryan -- Garnet Hathaway

Mark Giordano -- TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin -- Travis Hamonic

Oscar Fantenberg -- Rasmus Andersson

Mike Smith

David Rittich

Scratched: Austin Czarnik, Dillon Dube, Alan Quine, Michael Stone, Juuso Valimaki, Dalton Prout, Oliver Kylington

 

Avalanche projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Alexander Kerfoot

Colin Wilson -- Carl Soderberg - J.T. Compher

Matt Nieto -- Derick Brassard -- Matt Calvert

Sven Andrighetto - Tyson Jost -- Gabriel Bourque

Samuel Girard -- Erik Johnson

Nikita Zadorov -- Tyson Barrie

Ian Cole -- Patrik Nemeth

Philipp Grubauer

Semyon Varlamov

Scratched: Mark Barberio, Ryan Graves

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Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice playoff previews: Eastern Conference | Western Conference

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