Sean Monahan celebrates with Jiri Hudler (Todd Korol/Getty Images)
The Calgary Flames are heading to the Pacific Division final after rallying from a 3-0 deficit in Game 6. Down 4-3 heading into the third period, Calgary rattled off four unanswered goals and skated to a decisive 7-4 victory to move on to play the Anaheim Ducks.
While they weren’t huge underdogs coming into the first round, the Calgary Flames six-game series victory over the Vancouver Canucks could be considered somewhat of an upset. But it wasn’t so much the Flames that beat the Canucks as it was the Vancouver offense that let their team down.
Through the first five games of the series, the Canucks registered just 10 goals and failed to take advantage of any defensive lapses the Flames had shown. For much of the season, Calgary was a subpar possession team, finishing in the bottom five of the league, while Vancouver fared much better, placing in the top 20. If there was anything the Canucks could have relied upon to take the series, it was that eventually the run of play would tilt hard enough in their favor that goals would come.
However, over the course of a seven game series, even favorable underlying numbers couldn’t do much to rectify a Canucks attack that failed to find holes in the Flames’ goaltending when it mattered most. When this series is looked back upon, it won’t be Vancouver’s choice to start Eddie Lack over Ryan Miller that changed their fate, but rather the Canucks’ inability to capitalize on their opportunities.
Game 6, while an example of how potent Vancouver’s offense could be, came at a time when it was a must-win for the Canucks. Unfortunately, it was also a game in which pucks found their way past Miller with regularity. In a single game, the swings can be volatile and often any mistake can be the difference between a win or a loss. For Vancouver, small defensive errors – failed zone exits and allowances of odd-man rushes – added up as they had all series. For the Flames, their ability to pounce on any error, no matter how small, made all the difference, too.
In just about every situation where the Canucks erred offensively, be it a blocked shot going the other way or an ill-advised pinch, it seemed the puck ended up in their net. Through the entire six-game series, that seemed to be a running theme, just as it had been throughout the Flames’ season – they’re a team that has defied odds by scoring whenever the opportunity arose or whenever an opponent made a mistake.
The fact is, though, if Vancouver had played as well offensively or had at least manufactured as many quality scoring chances as they did in Game 6 in the games prior, this series would have been much closer, if not tilted in favor of the Canucks. There aren’t many evenings in which the Flames are going to net four 5-on-5 goals, and Vancouver just so happened to get caught on one of the nights that Calgary’s offense clicked in similar fashion.
For the Flames, they now move on to a Pacific Division final showdown against the Anaheim Ducks, the team that dispatched a Winnipeg Jets club that was in the eyes of many a lesser underdog than Calgary. But that’s exactly the type of pressure the Flames have thrived on all season.
Few believed them to be more than a lottery team, yet they made the post-season. Fewer thought Calgary could beat Vancouver, though somehow they’re heading to the second round. Now, the task will be to shock everyone and defeat the Western Conference champion Anaheim Ducks. If they do so, maybe the Flames will be an underdog no longer this post-season and instead a team to watch out for.