ANAHEIM, Calif. — Special teams matter in the post-season, and it's a lesson the Anaheim Ducks hammered into the young Calgary Flames two years ago.
The Flames allowed six power-play goals, two apiece in the series opener and Games 4 and 5 as they were quickly bounced out of the second round.
The education continued through the 2016-17 regular season, with the power play making a big difference as Anaheim took four of five from Calgary, but Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan hopes the message has finally come through before the Western Conference quarter-finals start on Thursday.
"Special teams becomes really important in the playoffs, the margins are so tight," Gulutzan said. "A penalty here or there, a bounce. Chances are hard to come by so you can't take unnecessary penalties."
The Flames spent a good portion of Wednesday afternoon's practice at Honda Center working on their power play, but much of the focus afterwards was on avoiding giving those same opportunities to the Ducks.
For Calgary, any penalties in the playoffs would be especially punitive. Not only would it create scoring chances for the Ducks, who converted 31.6 per cent of power-play opportunities over their last six games following a staggering 4-for-70 drought which dated back to the start of February, but it denies chances for the Flames to use their speed against an inexperienced Anaheim blue-line.
With Cam Fowler out for the opening round due to a knee injury, the Ducks' top six on defence will feature Josh Manson and Shea Theodore, who have made just seven combined post-season appearances, and rookie Brandon Montour.
That's a group the Flames believe they can take advantage of in order to impose their preferred style of play.
"We want to play quick, we want to play fast," Gulutzan said. "We want to get the puck moving north-south as quickly as we can. With our four lines, we think we can play with some tempo."
When the Ducks have been able to play their way, using a rugged and patient approach to create turnovers and lean on their forecheck, the results have not been positive for the Flames. Anaheim was 6 of 19 on the power play against Calgary in the regular season. The Flames were held to one goal three times by the Ducks, giving away 13 power plays in those games.
"We've had a couple games like that throughout the season and they haven't turned out well for us, so I think just play our game," forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "Use our speed, make plays, be smart with the puck."
Whether that is possible given the recent history between the Flames and Ducks is another matter. Their most recent meeting featured 106 penalty minutes after Fowler was hurt in a knee-on-knee collision with Mark Giordano.
Both teams have downplayed the possibility of any further extra-curricular activities, with Giordano pledging to be on his best behaviour.
"It'll be a physical game and all that stuff, but I feel like the guys that perform the best in playoffs are the guys that are able to handle that and keep it in check," Giordano said. "As captain of the team I got to lead by example, so I got to get out there and play with a lot of intensity but also keep my emotions on the right side of things."
NOTES: Chad Johnson (lower body) will not be available for Game 1, with Jon Gillies serving as the backup goalie to Brian Elliott, Gulutzan said. Gulutzan wants to make sure Johnson did not aggravate the injury he suffered against Anaheim on April 4 after going through individual workouts and practice Wednesday.
Dan Greenspan, The Canadian Press