CALGARY – The Calgary Flames are deep in moxie, but not in playoff experience heading into their first-round NHL playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks.
Fourteen Canucks have played more than 20 post-season games in their respective careers heading into Wednesday’s Game 1 in Vancouver.
The Flames? Five have 20-plus playoff games on their resumes. A dozen will make their post-season debuts.
Total playoff games show an even wider gap in post-season experience. Vancouver totals 827 compared to Calgary’s 262.
“They’re favourites in all departments,” Flames head coach Bob Hartley declared Monday at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“We feel just lucky to be here, but at the same time, we’re not backing off from any challenges. That’s in our DNA. We know we’re facing a team with basically no weaknesses.”
Vancouver fell short of the post-season last year, but were a playoff team each the four years prior. They lost the Stanley Cup final in seven games to Boston in 2011.
Calgary is a playoff team for the first time in six years, so it’s been a while even for those Flames with the most experience.
Leading scorer Jiri Hudler and assistant captain Dennis Wideman last saw playoff action in 2012 with Detroit and Washington respectively. Forward Mason Raymond was a Canuck in 2013 when Vancouver was swept in the first round by San Jose.
How much experience matters “depends how you want to spin it,” Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said in Vancouver.
It’s fairly standard practice to offload pressure from the shoulders of your team. Henrik Sedin downplayed his team’s superiority in playoff seasoning.
“They’re young, we’re old. That should play to their advantage,” the Canucks captain said.
“You can go back and forth who has the advantage, who’s the favourite? I think it all evens out in the end.”
Sedin is correct in that Vancouver’s average age is 28.7, compared to Calgary’s 27.
Whether Vancouver goes with the seasoned Ryan Miller–who played his first game in seven weeks Saturday following a knee injury–or Eddie Lack in net, where the Flames can claim recent playoff experience is in goal.
Jonas Hiller played 13 of his 26 career playoff games over the last two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. The Swiss goaltender, signed a free agent last summer, has a solid goal-against average of 2.29 post-season.
“I’ve been there before, so I think that helps,” Hiller said. “You can go out there and feel confident that you normally play well in the playoffs. That kind of knowledge helps you not worry too much about what could be and what if.
“At the same time, all those numbers don’t help me a lot if I’m not ready to play the first game.”
The Flames were a playoff-bubble team for most of the season and would thus argue they know how to win stressful games.
Dethroning the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings 3-1 to secure playoff spot in their second-last game of the regular season simulated playoff pressure.
“To go through that experience, to go through the preparation, to go through a morning of preparing for that game, to go play in that game, all those experiences are going to serve us well starting Wednesday and into the future,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving.
The Flames went 2-1-1 versus the Canucks during the regular season and earned three out of a possible four points in Rogers Arena. Calgary’s 22 road wins this season tied a franchise record, but Vancouver was a solid 25-15-2 at home.
Flames rookie Sam Bennett made his debut in Saturday’s 5-1 loss in Winnipeg to conclude the regular season. The fourth overall pick in last year’s NHL draft played 16 minutes and earned his first career point assisting on Michael Ferland’s goal.
Hartley indicated Bennett could also make his NHL playoff debut this series.
“He’s an option, so my job is to prepare him,” Hartley said.
With files from Joshua Clipperton in Vancouver