When the Flames get goals from unlikely sources, they win games plain and simple. They are 11-1-1-1 when Shean Donovan scores a goal, 8-0-0-0 when Craig Conroy scores, 9-1-1-1 when Lombardi scores. However, the Canucks up front are deeper and more consistent, even without Bertuzzi. Martin Rucinsky and Geoff Sanderson provide secondary scoring depth while the Sedins are also a threat to put points on the board. Matt Cooke adds sandpaper to a potent top line with Naslund and Morrison. The edge goes to the Flames at the top end with Jarome Iginla the best forward on either side but the Canucks up front are more likely to put the puck in on a regular basis.
From one to six when healthy, the Flames have a good solid core of blueliners in Toni Lydman, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr, Denis Gauthier, Rhett Warrener and Andrew Ference but questions about Lydman's health throws Mike Commodore or Steve Montador into the mix and weakens the blueline. Warrener and Ference are the only two with significant postseason experience. Warrener during the Panthers' and Sabres' run to the Cup Finals and Ference being a key performer for the Penguins in 2001, ranking third in team scoring through three rounds.
However, Vancouver's group has been together for three playoff seasons and is more adept offensively. Ohlund, Jovanovski, Salo and Sopel have each played upwards of 20 games with Vancouver alone. Malik played 14 with the Canucks last year and 23 with Carolina two seasons ago. Marc Bergevin has participated in 77 playoff games.
The nod for experience goes to the Canucks in Dan Cloutier, but has he ever proven he can get the job done in the playoffs? In 22 NHL playoff games, Cloutier has a record of 9-12 with a 3.43 goals-against average. He also has a woeful .866 save percentage. On one hand, he will be very motivated to silence the critics who have said he can't get the job done when it counts. On the other hand, can he get the job done?
Miikka Kiprusoff, meanwhile, has had limited postseason action with only four games under his belt but a 1.91 goals-against average and .938 save percentage to go along with a 1-1 record in 157 minutes of action shows that the pressure of playoff performance doesn't faze the Finnish netminder. One playoff season while playing for TPS Turku in Finland, Kiprusoff went 9-1 with a 1.55 GAA
Vancouver's power play is still in a state of transition while adjusting to life without Bertuzzi. However, the truth is it was never really that good this season even with him in the lineup (14.9%, 22nd overall). Calgary's power play isn't much better at 15.1% (21st overall).
This may be a series that is not decided on the power play. Both teams have above-average penalty kills with Vancouver among the top three in the league at 86.1%. But Calgary's power play flourished against the Canucks in the regular season going 5-for-23 in five games (21.7%).
Darryl Sutter and Marc Crawford will put on a coaching clinic this series that could be unmatched throughout the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What Sutter has brought to the Flames this season and will bring to the team in the playoffs you can't measure. Hockey in April is a new experience for 14 Flames players and it certainly hasn't been seen in the city since 1996 but Sutter is used to making the playoffs and will have a calming effect on his team.
Both teams come into this year's playoffs with something to prove. Vancouver was bounced last year by an inferior team negating what could have been a run to the Finals and the Flames are entering the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Calgary might be a little too fired up and prone to making some mistakes in the early going, but then again Vancouver might be feeling the pressure as well.
In the end, it will all come down to experience. Making the playoffs and performing in what will inevitably be a long, draw-out and physical series will be an invaluable learning experience for the young Flames players. Vancouver simply has more experience and will react better when the pressure's on. The Canucks are peaking at the right moment with six straight wins going into the playoffs and should end up moving on to the next round, but they will pay the price.