ANAHEIM, Calif. - Stirring comebacks have been normal during this post-season for both the Calgary Flames and the Anaheim Ducks, who open their second-round series Thursday.
Yet the biggest comeback in Anaheim will be made by goalie Jonas Hiller. He's going strong in Calgary after the Ducks unceremoniously dumped him last summer.
"I can't deny that it's something special," Hiller told reporters in Calgary this week. "Knowing a team you used to play seven years for, I think that makes it a little more special than playing against another team."
Hiller will start Game 1 for the Flames, who hope to follow up their surprising series win over Vancouver with an even more stunning surge against the top-seeded Ducks. Anaheim's wealth of talented skaters will attempt to crack Hiller.
"He knows what we're like, and we know what he's like," forward Corey Perry said. "We know his tendencies, and he knows our tendencies. We've been shooting at him for years. So there's no real advantage either way."
Hiller once hoped to be a Duck for life after joining the organization out of his native Switzerland and supplanting beloved goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the crease. He became an All-Star and backstopped Anaheim's only playoff series victory between the club's 2007 Stanley Cup title and last season.
Although Hiller was a stalwart on several awful defensive teams in Anaheim, he had just enough lapses in his excellence to allow the Ducks to start thinking about the future last spring. Frederik Andersen and John Gibson both appeared ready for their NHL shot, and coach Bruce Boudreau benched Hiller late in the regular season.
All three goalies played in the post-season, but Boudreau went with the 20-year-old Gibson instead of Hiller in the final two games of the second round against Los Angeles. It cost the coach dearly: Gibson flopped, losing both games and getting chased early from the clincher.
The Ducks are hoping to avoid another second-round stumble this year with Andersen in goal, and they're solid favourites against the cardiac Flames.
Here are some more things to watch when the Flames visit Honda Center:
COMEBACK KIDS: Anaheim rallied from a third-period deficit to win the first three games in its sweep of Winnipeg. Comebacks were a theme throughout the regular season, when the Ducks repeatedly struggled in the first two periods before storming back to win with a ferocious offensive push. Yet the Flames are on their own run of comeback victories in the post-season, none more impressive than their clinching victory in Vancouver, where they erased a 3-0 deficit with flair.
ORANGE COUNTY DROUGHT: The Flames have lost 20 consecutive regular-season games in Anaheim since January 2004 (0-15-5), and their 2006 playoff win at Honda Center is their only success in the building. The numbers are stark, but they don't mean much to two rosters with only a fraction of that total history. The Ducks have been an outstanding home team during Boudreau's tenure, but he doesn't claim any responsibility for the streak.
TOP LINE: Calgary relies heavily on its top line ??? but what a line it is. Johnny Gaudreau has capped his stellar rookie season by teaming with Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler to form one of the NHL's most exciting trios. They scored seven of the Flames' 18 goals against Vancouver. But the Ducks can deploy destructive centre Ryan Kesler against the Flames' stars ??? and Anaheim has a pretty good top line of its own with Perry and Patrick Maroon flanking captain Ryan Getzlaf, the former Calgary Hitmen junior star.
EXPERIENCE COUNTS: The Ducks have paid more post-season dues than the Flames, although that might just ramp up the pressure. Anaheim is in its third straight post-season under Boudreau, while Calgary hadn't been in the Stanley Cup tournament in six years. After finishing with a top-three record in the NHL for three straight years, the Ducks must make the Western Conference finals to feel good about their progress ??? while the young, hungry Flames are essentially overachieving already.
WELL RESTED: The Ducks have played just six games in the past four weeks heading into the opener, mowing down the Jets and getting seven straight days off after a slow finish to the regular season. Perry is confident that the rest won't lead to rust, and the break apparently has allowed Gibson and centre Nate Thompson to heal from injuries that kept them out of the first round.