Calgary Flames defenceman Dougie Hamilton is struggling to find his regular-season form in a series against the Anaheim Ducks that has been close on the ice, but not on the scoreboard. And if Hamilton and his teammates don’t reverse the course of the series soon – say, beginning with Monday’s third game – it isn’t going to end well.
Calgary is down 2-0 to the Ducks, having lost 29 regular-season and playoff games in a row on Anaheim ice dating to the 2006 Western Conference quarter-finals.
Johnny Gaudreau, the team’s leading scorer, has been practically invisible at even strength. Troy Brouwer, added to provide some playoff oomph to the team’s young lineup, has yet to make an impact.
But no one has had a tougher start to the series than Hamilton, who had a major impact in the regular season, in which he scored 49 points, while mostly playing alongside team captain Mark Giordano on the team’s No. 1 defence pair.
Together, the two formed one of the most effective regular-season defence tandems in the NHL. Along with goaltender Brian Elliott, they were considered the key to shutting down a top-heavy Anaheim attack that has relied heavily on Ryan Getzlaf’s production since early March.
But Hamilton had two grim nights against the Ducks, taking three minor penalties in the opening-night loss. One game later, he was sitting in the penalty box again for holding Corey Perry’s stick with under six minutes to go when Getzlaf scored the Ducks’ game-winning goal.
Hamilton has taken four minor penalties in two games. Three resulted in Anaheim power-play goals. The Ducks won both games by identical 3-2 scores. You can do the math. When the margins are so small, the errors seem more egregious – and when you believe the calls are inconsistent, which Flames coach Glen Gulutzan asserted Saturday night, the losses sting a little more.
“It’s part of the game and you can’t control those calls,” Hamilton said. “You just kind of keep playing through.”
The expression on Hamilton’s face, when he delivered those words, was morose, closing in on hang dog. At different times, it veered into sorrowful. Only when Hamilton was asked about Monday’s venue change in their best-of-seven playoff series – from the Honda House of Horrors to the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary – could he summon up a small ounce of optimism and resolve.
“It’s going to be fun to play at home,” Hamilton said, in a tone that telegraphed exactly how much fun he’s had in the series – which is to say, none at all.
The Flames played two pretty good games against the Ducks and probably deserved to win at least once. But they didn’t, and professional sport is unforgiving that way.
The reality is, the Flames are on the ropes already, and hoping the change of venue also changes their luck, having lost Saturday’s game on a Getzlaf shot that pin-balled in off Lance Bouma’s skate and changed directions so wildly that it will make the blooper reels forever.
Getzlaf was a force for Anaheim again, with four points in two games, and another good night (12-2) in the faceoff circle.
Getzlaf is a bit of a local hero in Calgary, after playing his junior hockey for the WHL’s Hitmen, which retired his sweater some years ago.
Accordingly, whenever Getzlaf plays in Calgary, he does so in an arena in which his retired number is hanging from the rafters.
At different times in his career, this has been a source of great mirth to some of his teammates. But right now, the Ducks seem all business. They were laughably bad in the second period of Saturday’s game, which coach Randy Carlyle called one of the team’s worst of the year.
But they reset in time for the third and Getzlaf, in that no-nonsense way of his, dismissed the fallacy that something was said or changed in the Ducks’ dressing room between periods to reverse the course of the game.
“We don’t have to have a magical phrase or whatever,” Getzlaf said. “We’re all professionals in here. Just breathe and get ready to go.”
Collectively, the Flames and Hamilton were following Getzlaf’s advice Sunday, taking a few deep breaths to steady themselves.
“You’ve got to stay as much as you can in the present and think positive thoughts,” said Alex Chiasson, who had a second-period goal disallowed for goaltender interference Saturday that might have changed the outcome. “What happened in the past, you can’t control anymore.”
The games in Anaheim ended so late that the Flames stayed over Saturday night and then flew home Sunday to celebrate Easter with their families. Their margin of error in the series may have evaporated, but they are also aware that territorially, they’ve been no worse than even against the Ducks. The way things are going – more than 4,000 days since Calgary last won in Anaheim – you start to think that maybe there really is a curse at work here.
“We don’t think about that,” Hamilton said. “It’s just a hockey game to us. It’s just an unfortunate outcome – and my responsibility on the penalty. But you just have to stay positive. We can’t quit. We haven’t quit all season. We’re going to come at them hard at home and turn the series around.”
They are brave words on the surface, which Hamilton delivered in just a shade above a whisper, in the midst of a funereal Flames’ dressing room, where they were left to clutch all available straws. The good news: There will be nearly 19,000 screaming, red-clad supporters in the pews Monday, all hoping Hamilton will be singing a happier tune after the evening’s performance.Report Typo/Error