One reason why the Calgary Flames' swift elimination from the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs is such a shocker is that they played so well over the final 73 days of the regular season.
After a horrible 5-1 loss in Montreal to the Canadiens on Jan. 24 — an outing Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan described as "pathetic" — the Flames finished with a 21-9-1 flurry.
Calgary had one of the best second-half records in the NHL. Goalie Brian Elliott was a big reason for the success. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and the forwards provided plenty of offence. The stingy defence, led by captain Mark Giordano, played its part, too.
But that second-half formula for success did not continue in the opening round of the playoffs as the Anaheim Ducks swept Calgary in four games to make the Flames the first playoff team pushed to the sidelines.
There is no secret that in order to win the coveted Stanley Cup a team needs good goaltending, health and some luck. The Flames had health, but they did not receive good goaltending and their luck was rotten.
Elliott, who was so good down the stretch for Calgary, struggled in this series, finishing with a dismal .880 save percentage. He was pulled less than six minutes into Wednesday's series finale after allowing a soft goal by Anaheim's Patrick Eaves that drained the Flames' energy.
Then there were the bad bounces, especially in Game 2 in Anaheim, that didn't go the Flames way. But even though this was a Ducks sweep, this series was close. The first three games were decided by a goal and the finale was a 3-1 decision with the final score an empty netter from Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf.
"You realize how slim the margin of victory can be," Giordano said. "Some nights it's a bounce, some nights it's a penalty. In this series, we had a little bit of everything.
"You have to give them credit. You have to tip your hat to the other team sometimes."
The Ducks deserve credit. They set the tone against the Flames in the final week of the regular season with two wins over Calgary — part of an impressive 11-0-3 finish — and kept that unbeaten streak alive with four straight playoff wins over the Flames.
They won without their two best defencemen, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen, who were both sidelined by injuries. They won with depth as eight different Ducks accounted for the team's 14 goals in this series.
The Ducks and head coach Randy Carlyle are a hungry outfit. They are 10 years removed from their only Stanley Cup championship. Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Carlyle are the only ones around now who were part of that 2006-07 Stanley Cup team.
Carlyle would like nothing more than to eliminate the memories of his last visit to the playoffs, when his Toronto Maple Leafs collapsed in the third period of Game 7 in the first round against the Boston Bruins.
This Ducks team has veteran players like Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa whose time is running out. They came close to a championship with the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks and want to make the most of this run.
They now will have some much-needed rest to wait out their next opponent from the Edmonton Oilers-San Jose Sharks series and the possibility of the return of Vatanen or Fowler. The Ducks also have to be salivating at the possibility that the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of being eliminated by the Nashville Predators.
Flames have decisions to make
Even with two playoff appearances in the last three years, the Flames are still a relatively inexperienced bunch. Behind the bench, Gulutzan was making his first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But Calgary has good leadership with Giordano, and a talented young horse up front with Monahan, their No. 1 centre. This loss will only help the learning curve.
The big off-season decisions will be goaltending — both Elliott and popular backup Chad Johnson will be free agents this summer — and whether or not general manager Brad Treliving will get a new contract.
It can't be easy being the GM in Calgary with meddling personalities above him in team president Ken King and his president of hockey operations sidekick Brian Burke.
But those in the know in the hockey world have been impressed with the job Treliving has done. He deserves to continue in his role.
However, when your season ends so swiftly, so shockingly, who knows what will go down in Cowtown with the direction of the Flames.
It will be an interesting next few weeks in Calgary.
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