2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Five reasons the Calgary Flames were upset by the Colorado Avalanche
Breaking down where things went wrong for the Flames
The Calgary Flames are dead.
The Western Conference's top-seeded team was eliminated after just five games, dispatched by the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche in pretty convincing fashion. The Flames' exit comes on the heels of the East's top seed (Tampa Bay Lightning) being swept, marking the first time in NHL history that the top-ranked team in each conference has been knocked out in the first round.
On paper, the Flames looked to be the superior team, putting up 107 points in the during the regular season -- tied for second-most in the league.
Let's take a look at where things went wrong for the Flames.
Avs' top line took over the series
After getting blanked via a 4-0 shutout in Game 1, Colorado's top talent went bananas and took control of the series. Their trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog showed why they have a well-earned reputation of being one of the most dangerous and explosive lines in hockey.
Those three players outscored the entire Flames' roster in the final four games, accounting for nine goals and 21 points. Rantanen led the series with five goals and nine points, while MacKinnon also scored three times -- including a pivotal game-winner in overtime of Game 2.
To put it simply, these guys were at their best and there was absolutely nothing the Flames could do to stop them. MacKinnon was an incredible facilitator. He dominated.
Flames' top line was no where to be found
As previously mentioned, the Flames were led by a dangerous attack up front that featured three 30-goal scorers with the likes of Johnny Gaudreau (36-63-99), Sean Monahan (34-48-82) and Matthew Tkachuk (34-43-77).
However, that offensive attack sputtered following the Game 1 win. Over the final four games, the Flames scored just seven total goals and never scored more than two in a game.
Gaudreau had one point in the entire series (an assist in Game 2), though he arguably should have had a goal in Game 5. Monahan fared slightly better, picking up a goal and an assist through the five games, but was nearly invisible on the ice for a significant portion of the series. That duo just went ice cold at a very inopportune time.
It was part of a tough series for the Flames' top-six as a whole. The second line got off to a good start in Game 1, but they were completely waxed by Colorado's top talent the rest of the way. In the final four games of the series, Tkachuk finished with one assist and was a minus-five, and the same goes for Elias Lindholm. Mikael Backlund, meanwhile, had two assists and was a minus-six.
The defense imploded
Heading into this series, I expected the Flames' to have some issues on the back end. Ultimately, I was correct... but very wrong in anticipating where most of those problems would come from.
Anyone who watched Mike Smith this season likely had concerns about the veteran goaltender being named starter for the Flames at the outset of this series. But Smith was actually one of Calgary's better players for a large portion of this series -- he was just hung out to dry by the guys in front of him.
The Flames finished this season as the league's ninth-best defensive unit, and they surrendered a league-low 28.1 shots against per game. They also very likely have this year's Norris winner on their roster in Mark Giordano.
But Calgary's defensive corps just could not get out of their own end in this series and it led to an absolute barrage of chances in front of, next to, and behind Smith.
After Game 1, the Flames were out-possessed and out-chanced at 5-on-5 in four straight games -- sometimes by a wide margin. Calgary didn't surrender 50 shots to an opponent all season, but they did it in back-to-back games in this series.
Ultimately, Smith was under siege for nearly this entire series, and he did his damn best to limit the damage.
During the regular season, the Avalanche took the most penalties of any team in the NHL. However, Calgary was the more undisciplined team in this series, going shorthanded 25 times -- the most of any playoff team through five games thus far. With the Avalanche owning one of the league's best power play units, that's a recipe for disaster.
While Colorado only scored on five of those man-advantage opportunities, several of them came during pivotal moments.
After evening up the series with a dramatic overtime win in Game 2, the Avs were able to set the tone in Game 3 thanks to back-to-back first period power play goals from MacKinnon.
In Game 4, the Flames carried a 2-1 lead late into the game and looked like they might steal a game to pull even in the series, but the Avs tied the game late in the third period when Rantanen netted a power play goal after a tripping penalty from Mikael Backlund. That forced OT, and Rantanen also scored the game-winner.
In the clinching Game 5, Colorado was able to put the series out of reach thanks to back-to-back power play goals that made it 4-1 and 5-1.
We've already mentioned the play of Mike Smith, but it's certainly worth mentioning that Grubauer was pretty great in the Avs' net at the other end. After giving up three goals in series-opener, Gruabauer went 125-for-132 (.947 save percentage) the rest of the way. The biggest save came in overtime of Game 4.
That phenomenal save prevented Calgary from evening up the series and allowed the Avalanche to take a commanding 3-1 lead en route to the gentleman's sweep.
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