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Five reasons Flames advanced to second round

by Aaron Vickers

The Calgary Flames were supposed to settle with just making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the second season after a significant roster overhaul, they should have been content with just arriving.

But playing with house money proved valuable, as Calgary, making its first playoff appearance since 2009, beat the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the Western Conference First Round. It's the first playoff series win since 2004 and the second time going beyond the first round since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.

Here are five reasons the Flames advanced to the second round:

1. Surprising scoring punch -- Calgary's top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler combined for 17 points in the series after they had seven points in the first five games. Contributions from veteran David Jones and rookie Sam Bennett, among others, helped bridge the gap until the top line closed out the series with a 10-point effort.

Bennett, who played one regular-season game heading into the playoffs, provided surprising depth scoring for the Flames with two goals and an assist in the first four games. Jones had two goals in the opening five games and then had three assists in Game 6.

The most noticeable contribution came from the defense. Like the regular season, TJ Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman helped lead the Flames offensively. Russell, who scored the game-winner in Game 1, Wideman and Brodie had four points each in the series.

2. Conditioning was the key -- Calgary's top three defensemen had plenty of opportunity to contribute offensively as coach Bob Hartley used them as frequently as he could.

Brodie averaged a Flames-high 27:10 of ice time per game while Russell averaged 27:06 and Wideman was at 26:59. For Brodie and Wideman, their ice time represented an increase of nearly two minutes per game from their regular-season average, while Russell skated more than three extra minutes per game.

Deryk Engelland also saw a dramatic rise in ice time. He averaged 14:23 per game in 76 regular-season games but was on the ice more than 20 minutes per game against the Canucks.

"You look at the guys that we don't have in our lineup," Hartley said the day before Game 6. "Whenever I talk to the owners, to management, to [president of hockey operations] Brian Burke, to [general manager] Brad Treliving, to our players, it always comes down to one thing. We play to win. We're sitting at the table and we are playing the cards that we feel is going to get us the jackpot. Our guys are well-conditioned. We don't draft our players from nursing homes. We have great athletes. We work on our conditioning all year long and I think that our conditioning is paying off."

3. Ferland and the forecheck -- Before Micheal Ferland had two goals and an assist to help clinch the series in Game 6, the 23-year-old rookie had 33 hits through the first five games. With another seven in Game 6, Ferland enters play Sunday second in the playoffs with 40.

It was part of a ferocious forecheck the Flames employed to wear down Vancouver's defense. The line of Ferland, Jones and Matt Stajan served as Calgary's hit brigade, combining for 67 in six games. Joe Colborne had 18 hits and Bennett and Josh Jooris each had nine.

"That'd be our goal," Jooris said between Games 4 and 5. "We want to play a physical style, not give their defense much time. We want to get down on the forecheck, be physical and finish as much as we can. This is the NHL; we are in good shape and this is the time of year where it's got to shine through. If we can get to them and have them show some signs of fatigue, that's good for us."

4. Cardiac kids -- Two of the Flames' four wins in the series came in a fashion reminiscent of the regular season. Their 10 third-period regular-season comebacks were third in the League, and they had two more in the postseason.

In Game 1 Russell's goal with 29.6 seconds remaining in regulation capped a comeback from a 1-0 third-period deficit for a 2-1 victory. In Game 6 the Canucks led 3-0 9:42 into the game, and then led 4-3 entering the third period. But the Flames scored four times in the final 20 minutes to close the series with a 7-4 victory.

"We just find another gear in the third," Jones said after Game 1. "I'm not sure what it is; we just kind of buckle down. I think because we've done it so much this year we kind of get the ball rolling and it's just got better and better all season. We're definitely not uncomfortable in that spot."

5. Power plays -- In the regular season Calgary's power play was 13th in the League at 18.8 percent. It was better in the playoffs, scoring five times on 18 chances (27.8 percent), including Hudler's goal at 6:14 of the third in Game 6 that tied the game and started Calgary's four-goal outburst.

"Sometimes it's just waves," Hartley said of the power play before Game 5. "On the power play we've had great puck movement. We've had great net presence. We found pucks and sometimes there's a combination of good execution and puck luck also. Those guys are magicians on the power play. They're such elite passers that they make it very, very tough to defend. But we’ve done a pretty good job so far."

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