Steady stream of penalties leads to Flames’ undoing in Game 1

The Anaheim Ducks trailed 2-1 in the second, but battled back to go up 3-2 soon after, and would hold on to defeat the Calgary Flames by that score to take a 1-0 series lead.

ANAHEIM, Calif. – It was the kind of moment that made you wonder whether the Anaheim Ducks fans were barking the truth on those occasions they chanted at the Calgary Flames, “You can’t win here!”

The Flames have, figuratively, had a problem showing up at the Honda Center in the past decade or so. But an actual disappearing act—however brief—was a big part of their undoing in a 3-2 Game 1 loss in Anaheim on Thursday night.

Ryan Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg each registered a goal and an assist during a Ducks victory that was hotly contested right through the final minutes, when Calgary failed to convert on a 5-on-3 power play. The Flames’ best chance to tie the game came with goalie Brian Elliott on the bench, as Johnny Gaudreau jumped on a loose puck, pulled it to his backhand and tried to slide it past John Gibson. The Anaheim goalie was up to the task, though, kicking out his left leg and stuffing Calgary’s most dangerous sniper.

“We get our scoring chances, we gotta find the net,” Gaudreau said.

Much of the pre-series chatter focused on the fact Calgary had dropped 25 consecutive regular-season games in Southern California, not to mention three more during the 2015 playoffs. That’s why, when Getzlaf got the home crowd rocking with a power-play goal 0:52 into the opening frame, Ducks supporters were quickly in full throat, taunting the Flames.

But instead of wilting, Calgary pushed back. With his team enjoying a man advantage of its own, Kris Versteeg made a wonderful pass to Sean Monahan, which the Calgary centre easily re-directed past Gibson to tie the game 1-1 before the halfway mark of the first.

In the second, Versteeg was the source of another sweet setup, this time whipping a surprise backhand to the slot, where Sam Bennett guided it home for a 2-1 Calgary lead.

At that point, it seemed like the visitors were starting to take over the proceedings.

However, the good vibes went up in smoke when an entire five-man unit tried to change on a play all the Flames anticipated would be icing. Instead, the puck rolled right to Gibson and in the blink of an eye, Ducks defenceman Kevin Bieksa bombed a pass to the Calgary blue line, where Getzlaf was suddenly in the middle of a 3-on-0. While Elliott stood his ground and stopped the first shot, Rickard Rakell banged home the rebound before Calgary captain Mark Giordano, who was scrambling to get into the play, could knock the puck away.

“That was a big game-changer,” said Gulutzan.

So was the fact Calgary took seven minor penalties, including three by defenceman Dougie Hamilton. The first one came just 0:47 seconds into the affair, when—to the frustration of their coach—the Flames all sort of stopped moving on a play they figured would soon be blown dead because the Ducks had too many men on the ice. When it wasn’t, Hamilton was forced into a tripping penalty that he served just five seconds of before Getzlaf blasted home a one-timer from the top of circle.

The game-winner came courtesy of Silfverberg, who fired a laser past Elliott while Lance Bouma was serving a sentence for goaltender interference.

Whether it was youthful exuberance or just good old fashioned undisciplined play, the bottom line is the steady stream of bodies to the box not only allowed Anaheim to pop a pair of power-play goals, it also disrupted the Flames’ flow.

“It affects our top guys’ ice time and you lose your rhythm,” said Gulutzan. “We’re a team that needs to play with pace and some rhythm and we didn’t get it tonight.”

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That said, the Flames don’t have to search too hard to find some positives. As noted, before the collective brain camp that led to the 3-on-0 marker, Calgary was doing a nice job of working the puck down low and keeping it away from Anaheim’s difference-makers.

“Five-on-five, if you look at the chances, they were quite even,” said Gulutzan, whose team was only outshot 41-32 because the Ducks fired 11 pucks at Elliott while on the power play.

Maybe Calgary has had a miserable time in this arena, but it’s not like they were run out of it in Game 1. A few smarter decisions coupled with a little restraint and who knows how this back-and-forth contest might have worked out.

“Two power-play goals and a bad change, it’s not like they really earned it that much, we kind of game it to them,” Elliott said. “We clean things up and we’ll take care of business.”

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