April 20, 2017 1:06 am
Updated: April 21, 2017 6:03 pm

Anaheim Ducks douse Calgary Flames’ post-season in first-round sweep

Calgary Flames' players watch the dying seconds of their loss to the Anaheim Ducks during third period NHL hockey round one playoff action in Calgary, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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The Calgary Flames are the first team to be eliminated from this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. The Flames’ season ended in disappointment on Wednesday night after a fourth consecutive one-goal loss.

The dissatisfaction wasn’t necessarily with what happened — Calgary entered its first round series a decided underdog against the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks — but more so with how it happened.

The Flames were in every game, including the series clinching 3-1 loss at Scotiabank Saddledome, but were unable to push the series to a Game 5 due to various failings.

“It’s a learning experience for all us in how fine the line is between winning and losing in the playoffs,” said Calgary captain Mark Giordano, whose team was swept in its best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final matchup. “Penalties, mistakes, all the little details. I felt every game there was a little minor detail that they were better than us in and it was the difference.”

Goaltending was once again front and centre in the Flames undoing on Wednesday, as was the case in Game 3.

Veteran Brian Elliott struggled in the post-season after being brought over from St. Louis last June to stabilize the position after Calgary’s goaltending was worst in the NHL last season.

The 32-year-old gave up a soft goal in the final minute of the second period in Game 3 that kick-started a Ducks rally which saw them roar back from a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime. Elliott, who faced 27 shots, admitted afterwards that he let the team down.

With veteran backup Chad Johnson the other option, Gulutzan didn’t name his Game 4 starter until Wednesday morning. His decision to pull Elliott Wednesday night came much quicker. It took just one goal, which came on Anaheim’s third shot at 5:38.

The energy started to drain from the Saddledome after Patrick Eaves’s harmless-looking wrist shot from a sharp angle banked in off the inside of Elliott’s left pad.

“I didn’t like the goal,” said Gulutzan. “I just felt at that time that maybe we needed a spark. If you looked at our first 4-5 minutes, we were really jittery.”

Elliott, who will be a unrestricted free agent on July 1, was desolate post-game.

“As a goalie you take pride on giving yourself and your team a chance to win every night,” he said. “I still can’t explain how it goes under my pad there. I feel bad.”

Johnson surrendered a goal on the second shot he faced and Gulutzan said it wasn’t until the second period that he felt his team finally got going.

In a series in which Calgary outshot Anaheim in all but the first game, a total of 138-22 overall, there were other mistakes made.

In Game 1, it was a non-stop trips to the penalty box. Seven minors put the Ducks on the power play far too often and they took advantage.

In Game 2, Calgary gave up the tying goal on a 3-on-0 after a dreadful line-change. The winning goal came on a late power play after an unnecessary penalty by Dougie Hamilton.

“It sucks,” said Sean Monahan, who had four goals, one in each game. “It’s the most fun to play hockey in the playoffs and you go out in four. It’s not a good feeling.”

Two years ago when Calgary last made the playoffs, the team was dubbed the ‘Find-a-way Flames’ for their ability to always find a way to win. This series, they kept finding a way to lose.

“We played well enough to get wins,” Gulutzan said with a sigh. “Two, three you could argue. We didn’t get the goals when we needed late. We were always down one. If you rewind the series you can see some tipping points where we made some mistakes.”

The Flames drew high praise from the opposition as well, with Ducks coach Randy Carlyle giving full credit to Calgary.

“They were true to their word saying they probably deserved a better fate in some of the situations,” said Carlyle.

“This is sports and when you’re on the winning side, you’ve hopefully taken advantage of some of the things you were presented with and that’s the way it worked out for us.”

The Ducks now have the luxury of rest and recovery ahead of their conference semifinal. They await the series winner between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks tied at 2-2.

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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