The Anaheim Ducks were largely favored to take out the Calgary Flames in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who had money on them holding a commanding 3-0 lead.
Conventional wisdom held that Anaheim’s injuries, paired with the Flames’ friskiness, would keep things interesting in a close series.
All of those initial predictions have turned out to be fairly on the money. A major caveat, however: they haven’t been reflected on the series scoreboard.
Even the most orange-blooded of Ducks’ fans couldn’t argue that Anaheim has come anywhere close to dominating in this series.
Take, for instance, the scoring chances count.
The bread to Anaheim’s proverbial butter this season has been controlling scoring chances at even strength at a very healthy clip, thanks to a stalwart blueline and a responsible forward group.
Through three games, the Ducks have controlled a paltry 43.04 percent of the scoring chances at even strength. Perhaps that was to be expected, with the absences of Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen. Even so, that’s a considerable drop-off from their regular season mark.
The picture gets even uglier when looking at high-danger shot attempts from the slot at even strength. Anaheim’s been absolutely caved in, conceding nearly 60 percent of all shot attempts coming from high-danger locations.
So, how in the hell can a team that’s getting thoroughly out-played at even strength be on the verge of sweeping its opponent? When you boil everything down, two things stick out:
Anaheim’s goaltending has been superb at even strength. Even with John Gibson’ faux pas in Game 3, the Ducks boast a godly .980 high danger save percentage at five-on-five. That’s almost unfair.
Overall at five-a-side, Gibson and Bernier have turned aside 97 percent of shots. Shockingly, super-human goaltending goes a long way in covering up what’s been a lackluster performance from the Ducks’ skaters in that setting.
The Power Play
Anaheim’s five-man unit has been a top-five team in generating both shot attempts and scoring chances.
Even without Fowler, who usually mans the top unit from the point, the Ducks have done an excellent job at keeping the puck in Calgary’s end with the man advantage.
Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the Flames have routinely gift-wrapped power play opportunities for Anaheim late in games. Calgary committed four minor penalties in the third periods of Games 1 and 2, leading to two power play goals for the Ducks.
Anaheim hasn’t played anywhere near its best hockey yet, and it leads the series 3-0. The “good teams find a way to win” cliche certainly comes to mind here.
From a purely emotional standpoint, Game 3 may have been the nail in the coffin for the Flames. Calgary came out firing on all cylinders, dominating every facet of play, and still lost.
It’s difficult to imagine that they can overcome the hurdle they’ve set in front of themselves, even though crazier things have happened.
Lastly, the Ducks have plainly gotten some really fortunate bounces. Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry’s game-winning goals came off of bizarre bounces in front of the Calgary net.
As for Nate Thompson’s heavily-debated goal in Game 3, let’s face it: his stick was probably over the cross-bar. Replays were inconclusive, though, and the call on the ice was a good goal. No way it was getting overturned.
It’d be easy to say “better to be lucky than good”, but Anaheim has gotten its fair share of luck, and we know that they’re capable of being quite good. That bodes quite well for their Cup chances.