March 30 2011 11:36AM
The Calgary Flames have hopes for the playoffs. Very, very, very thin hopes for the playoffs...at best. Those thin chances may be completely extinguished tonight, depending on the result of Calgary's last game against an opponent their chasing. The Flames take on the Anaheim Ducks tonight at the 'Dome, once again, the "biggest game of the year" (7:30 pm, TSN and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
With losses from Chicago and Nashville last night, the Flames have a slight opportunity to close a little bit of a gap. That's looking at the immediate picture, and it's really all the team can do. Steve Staios had the best quote inside the locker room this morning, saying "we can't win five tonight" and that really does seem to be the focus.
Elimination Number: 3.5
The good news is, that number didn't move last night. It could have dropped to three, but instead stays at 3.5 or seven points. Chicago's schedule isn't easy down the stretch, so if Calgary can make it tougher on them by winning their games, they've got a chance.
Not much changes for the Flames, as they get set to tangle with the Ducks for the final time this season. Saturday's exciting 5-4 shootout win was fun, but it certainly underlined some issues for the team. Calgary was out and out worked by a better team Wednesday night against the San Jose Sharks, but to have the same thing happen for the vast majority of a hockey game Saturday is another story. The Oilers are not a better hockey team...in fact...the Oilers are not an NHL hockey team, yet they outplayed, outworked, outchanced, and almost beat the Flames. Not good.
The largest question I have is...why? Why at this time of year are the Flames falling into a trap of playing poor, listless hockey? It's not like the Oilers game was the first time this has happened. They've had numerous issues throughout the month of March, and those issues need to be kicked from their game in short order. Calgary has just five games remaining, and their only real chance at a playoff spot is to run the table, something they won't do with some of the hockey we've seen.
The injury situation remains the same for Calgary, with no David Moss, Brendan Morrison or Niklas Hagman tonight. The one piece of good news surrounds Morrison, who has been skating by himself prior to practice the last couple days, continuing his recovery. That's not to say he'll be ready in short order, but it's a sign of progress. The other question mark is Daymond Langkow, who will not play tonight, and when he does end up playing is anyone's guess at this point. The feeling is Langkow is physically ready, but salary and hockey wise, it may not be the best option to put him in.
The salary issues surrounding Langkow are simple. He's a $4.5 million cap hit, and even though it's the end of the season, it's still difficult to make all the necessary room. It would mean sending a player back down to the American Hockey League, and with only one remaining recall, that's not the best idea ever. Then there's the hockey stuff. The Flames are in a playoff race here and Langkow hasn't played in over a year. I understand he was a large part of Calgary's success last year, but needing wins, it's a definite risk putting in a cold player at this time of year. All that said, here are lines and pairings for tonight...at least to start...
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Ales Kotalik-Tom Kostopoulos-Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma-Matt Stajan-Greg Nemisz
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
Miikka Kiprusoff makes the start in net after a couple games where his performance level hasn't been where it's needed to be. Against a high flying Ducks team, you hope 34 can raise his game.
It's the red hot, and healthy Anaheim Ducks tonight at the 'Dome. It's pretty remarkable looking at the Ducks roster and seeing no significant, or even minor, injuries. That's thanks in large part to the activation of goaltender Jonas Hiller off injured reserve, as he's finally been able to kick the vertigo-like symptoms he's been suffering over the last month plus. He truly is one of the league's elite goaltenders, but the team is being very careful with their prized stallion, not pushing him into too much action right off the hop. With Randy Carlyle as the Head Coach, you never really know who's starting in net, but it looks like Ray Emery will get the start, as he was the first one off the ice. Hiller is practicing with the team and Dan Ellis is their third option.
Nothing has changed in terms of how the Ducks play, with them still spending a lot of time in their own end, and still spending a lot of time back on their heels. That said, they've seemed to adapt a little to their situation, knowing they don't have a goalie like Hiller to save their bacon. While Emery and Ellis have played well, Anaheim has also tightened up a little in their own end, really doing a nice job cutting down on quality scoring chances.
They're still a top heavy team, however, and if you can find a way to neutralize the top two lines, you'll have some success, because the Ducks don't boast a ton in their bottom six forwards. The top line is as good as you'll find in the NHL, and Corey Perry is a legit Hart Trophy contender, regardless of how much you hate him. Few players can singlehandedly impact the game like he does, and he's one of the true heavyweights on this team, along with his linemate Ryan Getzlaf. The second line has some real punch too, and the Flames killer Teemu Selanne will try to be at his best again, coming of a five point night Monday against Colorado. And he's 40. Here are lines and pairings:
Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Jason Blake-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey-Brandon McMillan-Brad Winchester
Jarko Ruutu-Todd Marchant-George Parros
Toni Lydman-Lubomir Visnovsky
Francois Beauchemin-Luca Sbisa
Cam Fowler-Sheldon Brookbank
It's been a real nice season for Fowler, and they've got a real player on their hands as he continues to progress through his rookie season. Lydman and Visnovsky are a surprisingly good shutdown tandem, and the latter is putting up crazy points too. I say it everytime the Flames play the Ducks, but Visnovsky has been one of the league's most consistent defencemen this year, and the Norris Trophy talk surrounding him isn't unfounded.
Very simple for the home side: win and make Friday important, lose and kiss your season goodbye. I'm not holding out much hope at all for a playoff spot regardless, but at the very least, a win here and you move within one of Chicago and reel Anaheim within two points. While Calgary may not be postseason bound, at least make these final five games as meaningful as you can.