The Calgary Flames have answered challenges all season long. Now, in their Western Conference Second Round series against the Anaheim Ducks, comes another big one.
The Ducks were the top team in the Western Conference, giving them home-ice advantage in the series. And that's proven to be a tremendous advantage.
The Flames have lost 20 straight regular-season games at Honda Center (0-15-5), and two of three games in the building when the teams played in the first round of the 2006 playoffs.
But just because the Ducks have dominated the Flames at home doesn't mean they'll dominate this series.
"They're a team that never quits," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Sunday. "The minute you think you've got them they apply an awful lot of pressure … we know their capabilities and we know the fact they never quit. It's going to be a 60-minute game on both sides."
The teams have a number of similarities, among them remarkable resilience. The Ducks had an NHL-high 12 wins when trailing after two periods; the Flames were third with 10.
That trend played out in each team's first-round series. The Ducks trailed entering the third period in the first three games of their four-game sweep against the Winnipeg Jets. The Ducks became the first team in playoff history to win three games in a row when trailing after two periods.
The Flames started their six-game series win against the Vancouver Canucks trailing 1-0 in the third period of Game 1 but scored twice in the third to win it, capped by defenseman Kris Russell's goal with 29.6 seconds left. In Game 6, the Flames trailed 3-0 less than 10 minutes into the game and 4-3 entering the third period but scored four goals in the final 20 minutes to win it 7-4.
"We just find another gear in the third," Flames forward David 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."
Each team also depends on its top line for production. Left wing Corey Perry led the Ducks in goals (three) and points (seven) in the first round, and center Ryan Getzlaf had four points and a plus-3 rating averaging 22:26 of ice time per game, second among forwards.
Calgary's top line of Jiri Hudler (three), Sean Monahan (two) and Johnny Gaudreau (two) scored seven of its 18 goals against the Canucks.
The Ducks won a seven-game series in 2006.
Anaheim's marquee players, Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan Kesler, led by example and others followed to give the Ducks balanced scoring by the end of the first round.
Perry set the tone with two goals in Game 1. That was an important step for Perry, who has been dogged by scoreless playoff series in the past, notably his zero-goal performance in a seven-game, second-round loss to the Detroit Red Wings in 2013.
Getzlaf had one goal and three assists in Games 1 and 2, and Kesler had three goals and two assists to go with his 63.3 percent faceoff win rate.
Jakob Silfverberg led secondary scoring for the Ducks and showed how dangerous his quick-release shot can be with his game-winning goal in Game 2. Emerson Etem, who broke out in the 2013 playoffs, scored a highlight-reel goal in Game 4 and gives the fourth line a scoring element.
Andrew Cogliano and Rickard Rakell continue to provide two-way play. Boudreau settled into some continuity with the lines as the series went on, and he has Jiri Sekac at his disposal. Tomas Fleischmann ably filled in at fourth-line center, a position he hadn't played in years, because Chris Wagner and Nate Thompson, who recently resumed skating, each was dealing with an upper-body injury.
Some of the Flames' most important contributions up front in the first round came from unlikely sources.
Calgary got 13 points from rookies. Three came from 18-year-old Sam Bennett, who made his NHL debut in the regular-season finale April 11 against the Jets. Bennett, the fourth pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, missed most of the season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He wasn't a lock to crack the lineup for Game 1 but had two goals and an assist in six games.
Rookie Micheal Ferland also provided Calgary with a boost. He had four points, including a goal and two assists in Game 6, but his work on the forecheck was more important. He had 40 hits, second in the playoffs behind Matt Martin of the New York Islanders (45).
Bennett and Ferland bought some time for Calgary's top line of Monahan, Hudler and Gaudreau to get rolling. After combining for 92 points in the final 31 games of the regular season, they had two assists, eight shots on goal and a minus-10 rating in Games 1 and 2.
They rebounded during the final four games to finish with a combined 17 points, including 10 in Game 6.
Hampus Lindholm and Francois Beauchemin head a much-improved unit. Beauchemin led the Ducks in the first round with an average ice time of 23:33.
Cam Fowler took a step forward with a goal, an assist and a plus-2 rating. He was paired with Simon Despres, who has given Anaheim steady, mistake-free play and a big body.
Sami Vatanen continues to be an offensive force. He had two power-play goals and three assists in the first round, and his 13 shots on goal were second on the Ducks to Perry's 16. Boudreau kept the pairing of Vatanen and Clayton Stoner, who hasn't done anything to make the Anaheim coach change his mind.
That leaves James Wisniewski, the Ducks' big acquisition at the NHL Trade Deadline, as the odd-man out. Wisniewski has said he's available but might have to wait until the Ducks' first loss to get back in the lineup.
Russell is a significant contributor in the defensive zone, but he fueled them offensively against the Canucks. He had at least a point in the first four games, including the winning goal in Game 1.
As important as Russell's contributions were in Vancouver's zone, his defensive play alongside partner Dennis Wideman was invaluable. As Calgary's top pairing, Russell averaged 27:06, and Wideman, who had four points, averaged 26:59. Their postseason ice time represented a two-minute per game increase from the regular season, and coach Bob Hartley used the pairing every chance he could.
The ice-time increases didn't affect TJ Brodie, though. Skating primarily with Deryk Engelland, who saw almost a six-minute bump in average time on ice, Brodie averaged 27:10, fifth in the playoffs entering Monday. Brodie, like Russell and Wideman, had four points.
The heavy workload for Brodie and the Russell-Wideman pair meant limited ice time for Calgary's third pairing. David Schlemko, a waiver pickup in early March, earned a regular shift and averaged 12:50. The sixth spot, which was filled by Corey Potter the first two games and rookie Tyler Wotherspoon the final four, didn't play more than seven minutes in any game.
Frederik Andersen not only performed as expected, but his 2.20 goals-against average and .924 save percentage were much better than his numbers in last year's playoffs (3.10, .899). He might not have faced many high-quality chances against the Jets, but he was spectacular at times in a series that was much closer than Anaheim's sweep would indicate. Two of the nine goals he allowed came with Winnipeg on the power play.
John Gibson was unavailable in the first round because of an upper-body injury; his status for the second round is unknown. Andersen presumably would start based on performance and experience. Calgary has more offensive depth than Winnipeg, and Andersen likely will be tested more. It will be the furthest Andersen has gone in the postseason; he was injured last season when Anaheim advanced to the second round.
Jason LaBarbera has been Andersen's backup.
Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo split time for much of the regular season, so there was uncertainty about who would get the call in the playoffs. After Ramo sustained a lower-body injury April 4, the Flames went with Hiller as their No. 1.
It worked out well for the Flames until Game 6, when Hiller allowed two goals on three shots and gave way to Ramo, who made 17 saves on 19 shots to earn the win in relief.
Hiller, who spent his first seven NHL seasons with the Ducks before signing with the Flames as a free agent last summer, had a 1.84 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in the first five games against the Canucks. He has 32 games of playoff experience compared to Ramo's two.
Boudreau should be credited for getting Anaheim to ramp it up again after having little to play for at the end of the regular season. He also made sure his players kept their composure throughout the series with Winnipeg, not letting the Jets' physical play rattle them.
The spotlight will be bright on Boudreau, who never has advanced past the second round. This might be his best chance because the Ducks find a way to win despite constant deficits and seemed to have learned from last season. If Anaheim fails, the questions will continue about Boudreau's ability to take a team deep into the postseason.
Though Hartley is working with an inexperienced roster, he has had plenty of success as a coach in the playoffs, including a Stanley Cup championship with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
Hartley was instrumental in keeping everything in check with the Flames' young roster in the first round, and his tactical work paid dividends. With the series back in Calgary he was better able to free his top line of Monahan, Hudler and Gaudreau from the Sedins, though he never shied away from going power-on-power.
He also meticulously managed the minutes of his players, the defensemen in particular. On days between games, Hartley held optional practices, allowing his higher-minute skaters to recharge.
Anaheim revived its power play in the first round, scoring three goals in Games 1 and 2 after it was 1-for-23 in the final 11 regular-season games. Vatanen was a big part of that as the quarterback, a role Fowler also fills, and Getzlaf is key.
It also helped that the Ducks were able to draw penalties. It got 11 power plays in the four games after it got two or fewer in six of its final nine regular-season games.
The Ducks' penalty-killing unit allowed goals in Games 3 and 4, when the series shifted to an energized MTS Centre. But overall they have a solid unit with Kesler, Cogliano and Silfverberg as shorthanded threats in front of Andersen.
Calgary's power play had a major role in it being able to jump out to a series lead against Vancouver.
The Flames, who were 13th in the NHL on the power play during the regular season, scored four of their 11 goals through the first five games with the man-advantage. Five of Calgary's 18 goals came on the power play; they went 5-for-18 (27.8 percent) in the series.
They were on the power play by their top line; Monahan, Hudler and Gaudreau combined for 10 of Calgary's 17 power-play points.
Calgary's penalty kill wasn't as successful; the Flames killed 13 of 16 shorthanded opportunities in the series (81.2 percent), a nearly identical rate as the regular season when they finished 20th at 80.6 percent. The penalty kill did come up big in key moments though.
Right Wing - ANA
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 0
SOG: 9 | +/-: -1
Kyle Palmieri -- The right wing is a finisher, and if he can convert some of his chances he'll give the Ducks another element on offense. Including the regular season, he has one goal in his past 15 games. But Palmieri had four goals in five games against the Flames in the regular season, including two game-winners. Palmieri played with Kesler and Matt Beleskey in Games 1 and 2 of the first round before he was moved to the third line with Rakell and Cogliano.
Center - CGY
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 5
SOG: 15 | +/-: -1
-- All season long Monahan has been asked to play against elite centers in the Western Conference. The 20-year-old will face his tallest task yet going head-to-head against Getzlaf and Kesler. Used often against the Sedins in the first round, Monahan struggled early amid speculation he was playing injured but improved as the series progressed. He scored his first playoff goal in Game 3 and had three points in Game 6.
DUCKS WILL WIN IF … They continue to get secondary scoring against Hiller, who knows them well and whose 2.20 goals-against average was identical to Andersen's in the first round. The Ducks' high-end skill players led the way against the Jets, but the Flames mirror the Ducks in that they are known for rallying to win late. If the Ducks can come at the Flames with waves of effective forwards, it will go a long way to keep the Flames from another late rally.
FLAMES WILL WIN IF … They can overcome the mental barrier of playing in Anaheim and steal home-ice advantage. The Flames were able to steal home ice away against the Canucks and went undefeated in three games at Scotiabank Saddledome to close their first-round series in six games.