NHL Predictions: Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks Odds and Picks
What a difference a game can make. After the first game, a lopsided blowout by the Ducks, it seemed that there was no way this series was going more than four games. Heck, after that first game it seemed possible that the Flames would just forfeit and go home. The first period of the second game wasn't any better, either. Since then, though, the Flames have started playing with more confidence. They are still outsized, and the Ducks are still dictating the play, but Calgary got an absolutely crucial win in the third game of the series. It wasn't easy - they scored in the final 20 seconds to force overtime then scored early in the extra period. It seemed as if it shouldn't have been so tough, though - a goal was disallowed that sure seemed to be over the line. The mere fact that the Flames were able to shake off that frustration and keep fighting for the tie is a positive sign.
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That plucky spirit that had gotten them this far was totally absent in the first game of the series. Now the pressure is on for both teams - but especially for Calgary. They have a chance to get a mulligan - to head to Anaheim for a whole new, three-game series. That would be a miracle given the first game. For the Ducks they have to fight to get momentum back and to maintain the dominance they are clearly capable of here.
Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks Betting Storylines
Top line: For Calgary the biggest concern in the series has been the mostly lousy play of the top line of Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau scored the tying goal last game, but it was the first real spark from the unit all series. Hudler has been beaten up and missed time. Monahan and the team are staying mum about his status, but it is very evident that he is far from full strength, too.
With those two at less than full strength the Ducks have keyed on the tiny Gaudreau and really made him suffer physically. The Flames are only as good as this line is, so they need to hope that two more days of rest before this next game has helped the top line find themselves. Coach Bob Hartley has tried to shuffle things around to find a spark, but that disrupts chemistry on multiple lines and therefore isn't ideal. How much you trust the Flames in this game, then, has to do significantly with how much you trust this line to play better than they have.
Goaltending: I made a miscalculation here. I was expecting Jonas Hiller to be hungry to show the Ducks - the team that had cast him aside unceremoniously at the end of last season - that they had made a mistake. I thought he would channel that anger in very positive ways. Instead, he played the worst we have seen him all year in the opener and lasted just 22 minutes. Karri Ramo took over and has been excellent. This is a team that will be very reliant on their goaltending if they want to have any chance of winning this series, though, so we are relying very heavily on Ramo. At this point that doesn't make me as confident as I wish it did - he can be spectacular, but he struggles to maintain momentum over an extended period.
Returning players: Defenseman Rapha Diaz was back last game. That made a big difference for the team. The beaten up blue line was lacking depth, and the third pairing was playing just a small handful of minutes. That meant that the elite top three defenseman were playing too many minutes. With Diaz back, he can carry a bigger burden and leave Russell, Brodie and Wideman to play around 25 minutes instead of closer to 30. It's a big impact now - and a big one as the playoffs progress. There is also a chance that Lance Bouma could be back after a lengthy absence. The team has, predictably, not been talking about his status, but he was a full participant in practice on Thursday and could be ready to go. He's a smart and often explosive player and would add a very desirable element to the team if he returns. That's worth watching.
Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks Odds and Betting Trends
The Ducks are at -140 to win the game in Calgary at Bovada, with the Flames at +120. The total sits at 5.5, with the "under" getting more early attention.
The Ducks have won their last four games on two days of rest. They should be particularly rested here - right after the game on Tuesday they headed to the mountains of Banff for rest, practice and bonding. The Flames have gone under the total in their last four games on two days rest.
Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks Predictions and Picks
At this price we have to gamble on Calgary. They are in tough against a team that is so much bigger than they are, but if they can gain confidence and use their speed - like they did a lot on Tuesday - then they can offset that. The crowd was a major factor on Tuesday night and should be even more of one on Thursday - the city is obsessed with the team right now, and that enthusiasm will be heightened now that it is easier to believe the team has a chance. Calgary also seems the loosest that they have been all series by far based on their interactions with the media. Playing a home underdog is often a good thing, and this is no exception.
3-Unit Play #8 Take Calgary Flames (+120) vs. Anaheim Ducks (9:35 p.m. ET Friday)
Year-to-date Flames picks: 13-11, +11 Units, +$1518.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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