Round One Odds: Calgary Flames (+117) vs. Vancouver Canucks (-137)
The Canucks and Flames opened 2014-15 against each other and, for one, the season is going to end the same way. The Pacific Division rivals are set to meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, with Game 1 going tonight at Rogers Arena in Vancouver (10:00 p.m. Eastern). (Scroll to the bottom for the full series schedule.)
Vancouver and Calgary split the season series 2-2 with the Nucks taking the first two and the Flames the latter pair.
Both teams come into the postseason relatively hot. Vancouver finished the season winning three straight and going 6-3-1 in their last ten.
“People thought we were going to collapse and start losing games, and we stuck with it,” said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. “And it was how we won games with different guys stepping up every night. It’s a great feeling. We believe we can beat anyone. We’re not done here. That’s something we can bring with us.”
The Flames, meanwhile, dropped their final game of the year to the Jets (5-1), but also went 6-3-1 in their last ten to hold off the L.A. Kings for a playoff spot.
Statistically, the teams look pretty similar on paper. They were both top-ten in the NHL in goals for (242 for Vancouver versus 241 for Calgary) but middle of the pack in goals against (222 for Vancouver versus 216 for Calgary). Both teams also boast high-scoring forward trios that will need to continue to shoulder the load in the playoffs.
The Canucks’ Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Radim Vrbata combined for 212 points on the year, while Calgary’s Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan tallied 202.
One area where the Canucks appear to have an advantage is on special teams. They finished the regular season ninth in power play percentage (19.3%) and second on the PK (85.7%). The Flames were decent with the man-advantage, finishing 13th at 18.8%, but had some problems shorthanded, barely cracking the 80% threshold on the kill (80.6%).
The goaltending battle figures to be key in this series. The Canucks are facing something of a goalie dilemma. Starter Ryan Miller returned from a knee injury in the last game of the regular season and looked rusty in a 6-5 OT win over the Oilers. His backup, Eddie Lack, on the other hand played strong down the stretch, keeping Vancouver in a postseason spot while Miller recovered. The team waited until today to announce Lack (18-13-4, .921 SV%, 2.45 GAA) as the Game 1 starter.
Like the Canucks, the Flames have two goalies, Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo, who could factor into the series. They platooned for most of the season, but Hiller (26-19-4, .918 SV%, 2.36 GAA) figures to get the start in Game 1 as Ramo is dealing with the always mysterious “lower body injury”.
Most pundits predicted the Flames and their cast of youngsters and relative unknowns to have another rebuilding year. But coach Bob Hartley, the odds-on favorite for the Jack Adams Trophy, has taken the Flames back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09, preaching effort above all.
“Lots of times it’s not the toughest army that’s going to win, it’s going to be the smartest one,” said Hartley. “But you still have to be a soldier. You still have to be a warrior. That’s what we’ve been cultivating from day one, the all-out effort, pressure, finish your checks, block shots. That has been about our DNA from day one.”
The Canucks, who finished the regular season with four more points and will have home ice-advantage in the best-of-seven series, are -137 favorites to advance to the next round at the moment. The Flames are +117 dogs.
Vancouver still boasts a corps of players who came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. Given the Flames relative youth and inexperience – particularly in the postseason – taking the veteran Canucks looks like better value.
Calgary vs. Vancouver Schedule:
Wednesday, April 15, 10 p.m. Calgary at Vancouver
Friday, April 17, 10 p.m. Calgary at Vancouver
Sunday, April 19, 10 p.m. Vancouver at Calgary
Tuesday, April 2, 10 p.m. Vancouver at Calgary
*Thursday, April 23, TBD Calgary at Vancouver
*Saturday, April 25, TBD Vancouver at Calgary
*Monday, April 27, TBD Calgary at Vancouver
* if necessary
(Photo credit: Hockey Broad [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)