Ryan Miller and Chris Tanev (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Vancouver needed a near perfect Game 5 to stay alive in their first-round series against Calgary, and they got it. The Canucks applied pressure for the first 40 minutes, got a timely tally from Daniel Sedin and weathered the necessary storms to send the series to a sixth game.
If you’re a believer in advanced statistics, Game 5 was the first time in the first-round tilt between Vancouver and Calgary that the Canucks controlled play in the way many had expected them to all series long.
Entering the post-season, there were few teams considered as great an underdog as the Flames, as throughout the regular season Calgary managed to stay afloat regardless of some of the worst possession statistics in the entire league. Matter of fact, when the season came to a close, the only teams with more unfavorable possession numbers than Calgary were the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres. However, as they had done all season, the Flames defied what underlying numbers had said through the first four games of their playoffs series. Until Game 5, that is.
In the fifth game against Vancouver, the lack of puck possession finally caught up to the Flames, creating a run on the Calgary goal. And as good as Jonas Hiller has been through four games of the first-round matchup, when the all out barrage came, there was only so much the Flames netminder could do.
Thursday night, through two periods, the Canucks mustered 51 shot attempts to the Flames’ 30, had fired 34 shots on target to Calgary’s 16, yet had still only managed to squeak one tally – Nick Bonino’s perfect shot that found the top corner – past Hiller. As these things go, though, persistence paid off for Vancouver and, finally, in the third period the Canucks cashed in.
Early in the third frame, Daniel Sedin struck on a broken play in front of the Calgary net, registering the game-winning goal just minutes into the period. While the Flames brought pressure for the remaining 18 minutes, it was too little, too late, and the pressure the Canucks had sustained for nearly two full frames was enough to vault them over Calgary to bring the series that much closer.
What should concern the Flames is that now, with a 3-2 series lead and Game 6 set to go Saturday evening, Calgary will have to attempt to stifle the incredible momentum that was shown by the Canucks throughout Game 5. With their backs against the wall, Vancouver played inarguably their best game of the series. While they did only manage to pot two goals, the Canucks sent 50 unblocked shot attempts at the Flames net. With pressure like that, there’s little more Calgary could do than hang on for dear life.
Hiller’s miraculous play has been the catalyst for the Flames to jump out to the 3-1 lead. Eventually, though, just as the Canucks did in Game 2, Vancouver is bound to break through and find holes in Hiller if such relentless pressure is applied.
The difference maker for the Canucks was that for the first time in the series, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin truly stood out. Score sheet aside, the Sedin twins, who spent much of the game playing alongside Jannik Hansen, dominated with 22 shot attempts for while only allowing 11 against at even strength. When the puck was in the Flames’ zone, the Sedins controlled the cycle, wore out their opponents and created scoring opportunities.
One of the other big stories of Game 5 was the first playoff start for Ryan Miller, who had spent the first three games watching from the bench before his relief performance in Game 4. Miller not only gave the Canucks the opportunity to win, but he gave the Flames nothing to shoot at on their three power play attempts, resulting in three Calgary man advantages that were fruitless.
For the remainder of the series, Vancouver will need to play impeccable, error-free hockey, much like they did Thursday evening. If games 6 and 7 go much the same, the Canucks will be able to keep the Flames on their heels and a series that looked very much in Calgary’s hands will be quickly snatched way.