It's still pretty surreal to think that the Ducks are finally back in the conference finals. Eight years of waiting and patience is finally paying off... though in many cases I can say that patience certainly wasn't mine.
But for now let's reflect on the five game series that just finished and say some kind things about the young and surprising Calgary Flames.
-Kudos to the Flames entire team who found ways to improve in every single game. In game one it was clear that the Ducks were the far superior team and the Flames should not have even been on the same ice. In game five, the Flames put out everything they had and it gave Anaheim just about everything they could handle. Whenever they needed to improve, they did, and they did so without their only real stalwart defenseman in Mark Giordano. That's the sign of a team that has strong leadership and excellent resolve on levels you can't find in most teams.
-Kudos to Karri Ramo, who was the unparalleled star of the series. Without his heroics in games two through five, the Flames would have been wiped off the ice. Anaheim shelled the Calgary net with numerous quality chances in every single game, and Ramo stood on his head to keep his team alive. His aggressive style worked wonders with his stature and positioning. When he manages to get his rebounds a little more under control, this franchise might have its first legitimately top-tier number-one goaltender since Miikka Kippursoff. Oh, and speaking of that guy... how appropriate that it's another Finn?
-Kudos to Bob Hartley who absolutely should win the Jack Adams for his work with this team. He had them consistently believing they could win every game no matter how out of it they were and they never once gave up on a game. That made games two through five very interesting down to the wire. Likewise, good on him to recognize Jonas Hiller's inability to play in this series due to his emotional involvement and turning to Ramo immediately, and likewise giving him the full confidence to keep the team afloat.
-And finally, Kudos to the Flames top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Jiri Hudler, who demonstrated that even though they're young (minus Hudler), they're as talented as just about every other first line out there. By the end of the series, they had me worried nearly every time they were on the ice. And the scariest part is that they'll improve exponentially for every year for the next decade. The Flames are going to be extremely talented for many years to come and that building up north that's shaped like a Pringle is going to become an absolute nightmare to play against.
Now... bring me those Blackhawks.