Only a few minutes had passed since Randy Carlyle had won his first playoff series in eight years, dating back to his first incarnation as the Ducks’ coach, so he wasn’t quite prepared Wednesday night to dissect the hows and whys of their sweep of the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But he didn’t need to analyze video to be sure of one truth right away, while the Scotiabank Saddledome still echoed with cheers from a crowd that pulsated with energy throughout the Ducks’ series-clinching, 3-1 victory over the Flames.
“We know that it’s only going to get tougher,” Carlyle said of his team’s playoff path. “It’s as simple as that. It’s only going to get tougher.”
Their path might take them to San Jose to face the veteran-led Sharks or to Edmonton to face the speedy young Oilers. That won’t be determined for a few days because the series continues with the Oilers leading, three games to two. The Ducks, as the Pacific Division champions, will have home-ice advantage in either case. It’s possible the second round won’t start until next Thursday.
A break of more than a few days always triggers debates about rest vs. rust. For the Ducks, who are on a 15-0-3 run and last lost in regulation March 10, there’s a risk they’ll lose the rhythm they’ve developed by playing just about every other day for the past month. But with the other playoff series unresolved and Carlyle canceling practice until Sunday, the upside is there is ample recovery time for defenseman Cam Fowler, whose knee injury kept him out of the entire Calgary series, and defensemen Sami Vatanen, who missed the last three games because of an upper-body injury.
Carlyle said Thursday he expects both players to be available for the second round but wouldn’t say if they’ll be ready for the opener. He also said defenseman Hampus Lindholm is fine after getting bumped and requiring treatment late in Wednesday’s game, as is center Nate Thompson, who took a hit to the shoulder from Calgary defenseman Michael Stone.
Thompson too will appreciate the time off. “Whenever you can have some extra rest with guys a little banged up, it’s only going to beneficial for us,” he said.
The Ducks felt Fowler’s absence in their penalty killing, which neutralized only 10 of the Flames’ 16 advantages, a 62.5% success rate. But their 10-2 scoring dominance in five-on-five, boosted by the poise and puck-moving skills of defensemen Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour, went a long way toward compensating for that.
“Our penalty kill, we got scored on a bit and a couple maybe miscues by us but we’re still pretty confident with that moving forward,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “But I think five on five, everybody came and proved it.”
Carlyle wasn’t ready to declare their five-on-five play the key to their success. “I don’t know if we were that great. We tried to simplify our game and get pucks toward the net and drive the net,” he said. “Look at the goals that we scored. There weren’t too many that were high-energy goals. More dirty goals. Goals that were rebounds, second chance, jam the puck, wraparound.”
By going to the so-called dirty areas they were able to capitalize on deflections and bounces, including the intended pass by Ryan Getzlaf that caromed off the foot of Flames forward Lance Bouma and into the net for the winner in Game 2. Their luck came from hard work and poise in make-or-break situations.
“They got the goals when they needed them. They got timely goals and we didn’t,” Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. “We didn’t get puck luck, either.”
The Flames’ biggest problem was weak goaltending from Brian Elliott, who couldn’t hold a 4-1 lead in Game 3 and was on a short leash in Game 4, which got him yanked in favor of Chad Johnson after Patrick Eaves scored on the Ducks’ second shot, at 5:38 of the first period. By contrast, the Ducks’ goaltending was a significant asset. An out-of-sorts John Gibson was pulled after giving up four goals on 16 shots in Game 3, but Jonathan Bernier stopped all 16 shots he faced in relief and got the win when the Ducks rallied for a 5-4 overtime victory. Gibson returned Wednesday to make 36 saves in Game 4 despite being under siege much of the third period. “He was fantastic,” Thompson said.
The Ducks also remained disciplined for the most part, a novel departure from their recent playoff history. With Carlyle managing the bench well, the Ducks took care of business and earned a respite.
“We’re a deep team,” Bieksa said. “We got contributions every game from different guys and just kind of plugged away and played two good road games and wrapped it up.”
Simple as that. And they have a few days to relax until it isn’t so simple any more.