Anaheim Ducks (46-23-13, first in Pacific Division) vs. Calgary Flames (45-33-4, first wild card in Western Conference)
Why you have to watch: This series has the potential to have the most fireworks of any in the opening round. The teams brawled the last time they met, on April 4, a result of the low hit Flames captain Mark Giordano delivered on Cam Fowler that injured the Ducks' top defenseman. ... Anaheim held off the charging Edmonton Oilers for the Pacific Division crown, the fifth division title in a row for the Ducks. But as Anaheim learned last year in a first-round upset loss to the Nashville Predators, division titles mean nothing once you get to the postseason. The Ducks were one win away from a Stanley Cup finals berth in May 2015 but lost a Game 7 thriller to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals. Since then, Anaheim has made a number of changes to its lineup in an effort to get back there and beyond. ... The Flames are back in the playoffs for the second time in three years after missing out last year. The natural progression of their rebuild means this team is more ready this time.
Head to head: Anaheim took the season series 4-1 and extended its home wins streak against the Flames to 25 games. Overall, the Ducks had the third-best home record, at 29-8-4. Perhaps home-ice advantage, which is not always a big deal in the parity-filled NHL, might just be that in this series. ... The teams have met twice in the playoffs, with the Ducks winning in both 2006 and 2015, when the Ducks eliminated the Flames in five games in the second round.
Injury fallout: The main injury for the Ducks is to Fowler. GM Bob Murray announced last Thursday, through gritted teeth, that Fowler would be out two to six weeks with a knee injury. ... To most teams, losing a top-four defenseman would be a massive blow. But it just so happens that the Ducks have the deepest blue-line corps in the NHL. So it means that youngsters Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore both get to play, not just one of them at a time. ... There are no real injuries of note for the Flames, who enter the postseason as healthy as one can expect after the grind of an 82-game season.
Goalie advantage: It was a tale of two seasons in one for Brian Elliott, Calgary's offseason acquisition from the St. Louis Blues. He looked out of sorts in the first half before finding his regular form in the second. ... Elliott's 26 wins were one more than Anaheim No. 1 John Gibson, who missed time because of injury in late February and most of March and saw backup Jonathan Bernier shine in his absence. That, of course, led some to wonder if Bernier was giving the coaching staff something to ponder before the playoffs. But Gibson will indeed be Anaheim's Game 1 starter. ... I see Elliott-Gibson as a saw-off when both are on their game. But this is a big one for Gibson, who played the first two games against Nashville in last year's opening round before giving way to Frederik Andersen. He must take charge this time.
Coaching advantage: Veteran Randy Carlyle returned last summer for a second stint behind the Ducks' bench after leading the franchise to its only Stanley Cup championship 10 years ago. Under Carlyle, the Ducks play a more physical, direct game than they did under predecessor Bruce Boudreau. Will it lead to more playoff success? ... Glen Gulutzan was a surprising choice to replace Bob Hartley behind the Calgary bench last summer, and early season struggles by the team made some question the hire. But the Flames eventually got on track after players fully grasped Gulutzan's system. ... There's a sizable gap in experience between the opposing coaches, and it will be interesting to see if Carlyle tries to exploit that through his media messaging during the series.
Prediction: The Fowler injury is not insignificant, but the Ducks have the blue-line depth to overcome it. I do think, however, that the Flames will take their pound of flesh in this series. Ducks in 7.