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5 Keys: Avalanche at Flames, Game 1

Goalie matchup, play on special teams among storylines

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com Correspondent

AVALANCHE at FLAMES

10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ALT

The Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche will play Game 1 of the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday.

Calgary finished with the best record in the Western Conference for the first time since 1988-89, when it won its only Stanley Cup championship. Colorado is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since qualifying for 11 straight seasons from 1994-2006, a streak that began in 1994-95, the franchise's final season in Quebec.

 

[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

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.

"A lot of excitement," Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "Obviously, fans are going to be excited. We're going to be excited. When it comes down to it, you have to play hard and have to play the right way and block all the noise out and play the way we've been playing all year."

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:

 

1. Quick start, finish strong

Scoring first has been important for each team. Colorado won 28 games (28-6-6) when it scored first and 10 games (10-24-8) when it allowed the first goal. Calgary had the best record in the NHL when scoring first (36-4-1).

The Flames led the NHL with 118 third-period goals and a plus-54 goal differential in the third. The Avalanche finished first in goals in the final five minutes of the third with 50; the Flames were second with 44.

"It'd be nice to score first, get off to a lead, but I think throughout the year you've seen us … we can play up a goal or down a goal," Gaudreau said. "That's what makes our team a good team. Up a goal or down a goal, we can find ways to win."

 

2. Slowing down MacKinnon

Nathan MacKinnon led Colorado with 41 goals and the NHL with 365 shots on goal. He ended the regular season on a seven-game point streak (four goals, four assists). MacKinnon has 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 13 playoff games. However, no team was better at limiting shots in the NHL than the Flames, who allowed the fewest shot attempts (41.3) and fewest shots on goal (28.1) per game. They finished 30th with 1,033 blocked shots. 

"They're such a good defensive team," MacKinnon said. "They have six really good defenders. I'm sure I'll see lots of [Mark] Giordano. He'll probably win the Norris [Trophy] this year. It's always fun to go against top competitors. It's every night we see the best defenseman. It's not new."

Video: EDM@COL: MacKinnon pots 40th goal, gets 400th point

 

3. Grubauer's momentum 

Philipp Grubauer solidified himself as Colorado's No. 1 goalie late in the season, going 7-0-2 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .953 save percentage in his final nine regular-season starts. He'll need to continue his stingy play in the postseason against the Flames, who were tied with the San Jose Sharks for second in the NHL in scoring this season (289 goals) behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (319).

 

4. Smith's play

Like Grubauer, Mike Smith found some momentum late in the regular season. He went 23-16-2 with a 2.73 GAA and .898 save percentage in 42 games (40 starts) but had a 1.94 GAA and .916 save percentage in his final 11 starts. Smith has a 1.88 GAA and .945 save percentage in 19 playoff games -- but hasn't played a postseason game since 2012.

Video: ANA@CGY: Smith extends pad to deny Jones in tight

 

5. Take advantage on special teams

Colorado had the seventh-best power play (22.0 percent) in the NHL during the regular season, and Calgary's penalty kill finished tied for 19th (79.7 percent), including ranking 24th at home (76.3 percent). However, the Flames led the NHL with 18 shorthanded goals this season.

"It's going to be big for us," MacKinnon said. "We've done a lot of research on their penalty kill, and I'm sure they've done the same on us. It should be a fun series for special teams."

 

Avalanche projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Alexander Kerfoot

Colin Wilson -- Carl Soderberg - Mikko Rantanen

Matt Nieto -- Derick Brassard -- Matt Calvert

Gabriel Bourque - Tyson Jost -- J.T. Compher

Samuel Girard -- Erik Johnson

Nikita Zadorov -- Tyson Barrie

Ian Cole -- Patrik Nemeth

Philipp Grubauer

Semyon Varlamov

Scratched: Sven Andrighetto, Mark Barberio, Ryan Graves

Injured: None

 

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

Injured: None

 

Status report

Rantanen will play after missing the final eight games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. …Flames coach Bill Peters said they are "healthy as we can be, close to being as 100 percent as you can across the board."

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