The Calgary Flames have not yet seen the best of the Anaheim Ducks.
A 6-1 blowout in Game 1 of the second round Stanley Cup Playoff series might seem like it says otherwise, but there’s been a key element of Anaheim’s game lacking through all three games, and the Ducks insist that they have been far from their best.
The Ducks were one of the NHL’s best forechecking teams during the season. But they have struggled to produce at the same level against the Flames.
"Anaheim Ducks hockey is getting it deep, forechecking them, cycling them and wearing them down," winger Patrick Maroon said. "I think last game we didn’t establish the forecheck as much. We didn’t do a good job."
There was a lot of time dedicated to forechecking at Thursday’s off-day practice at the Fenlands Recreation Center in Banff. It’s the most effective way to neutralize Calgary’s speed game, which was on full display in the third period of Game 3. It’s the foundation on which the rest of their game builds upon each night.
"That’s our game, that’s our identity," Andrew Cogliano, one of the Ducks’ primary forecheckers, said. "Forechecking hard, playing below the circles and making it tough for teams to break out. I don’t think we did that enough."
Without a hard forecheck, the small things tend to go by the wayside, which leads to an unraveling, as it did late in the third period of Game 3.
"When we’re not forechecking well, guys are a little bit lazy," Cogliano said. "That’s the only way to put it. They’re not hunting pucks down. At this point in the season, it’s too hard if you’re not moving your legs, if you’re not skating. The D are too good, they move the puck past you. I think it comes down to, at the end of the day, guys just weren’t working hard enough."
But it’s far more difficult to play the type of game the Ducks play night after night in the postseason, especially when they’re getting everyone’s best effort each night. There were some uncharacteristic mistakes made in Game 3 and even more uncharacteristic was the hit and shot totals: 21 and 21.
The lack of physicality in Game 3 was surprising, considering they had overwhelmed the Flames with physical play and big hits in the first two games.
"We were on our heels a little bit in Game 3," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I don’t know how many shots we got in the third period but I know we didn’t have a lot of chances to score. Twenty-one has been our lowest in shots. Twenty-one’s been our lowest in hits. Evidently, we weren’t that good. And that’s probably a lot from what Calgary did. They made us not that good. But we weren’t that good in our estimation."
The Ducks got away from their game. They went up to Banff to find it, and they’re confident that they did.
"At some point, you’re going to get knocked down a little bit. It’s all about how you respond," defenseman Cam Fowler said. "We understand that we’ve given them some confidence for Game 4. But really when it comes down to it, if we do the things that we can do as a team, we fill like we’re a difficult group to handle. We have to come with a good response in Game 4 and try and put another stranglehold on the series."
Puck drop for Game 4 is Friday night at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN. The "Ducks Live" postgame show will air at 9:30 p.m. on Prime Ticket.