February 03 2012 11:52AM
Three nights ago, the Calgary Flames had every single team battling with them for a playoff spot lose in regulation, but were unable to pounce on their prime opportunity to close a gap in the Western Conference. While sitting idle last night, the out of town scoreboard was basically as good as they could hope for, presenting another opportunity for the Flames. Calgary welcomes Chicago tonight for the final meeting of the season between the two teams (7 pm, TSN and Sportsnet 960).
The Flames also have an opportunity to potentially pounce on the Blackhawks, who were shelled 8-4 by the Oilers last night, thanks in large part to a banner night from Sam Gagner. Their opponent is coming in on the second half of a back-to-back while also riding a six game road losing skid. Now five points out of the playoffs, the Flames don't really have a lot of options other than trying to take advantage tonight.
Another debut for the Flames tonight, as Krys Kolanos will enter the lineup for the first time this season. It's been quite the fairytale for the Calgary product, as Kolanos started the season coming off a 22 month absence from the game thanks to microfracture hip surgery. That was followed by an Abbotsford tryout agreement and an AHL only deal before signing his two year, two-way contract on Wednesday afternoon. Kolanos will play with Blair Jones and Mike Cammalleri tonight.
Alex Tanguay-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Mike Cammalleri-Blair Jones-Krys Kolanos
Blake Comeau-Mikael Backlund-Lance Bouma
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Scott Hannan
T.J. Brodie-Cory Sarich
While the Kolanos story is certainly a feel good one, it also comes as the Flames have lost another important member from their lineup. Lee Stempniak will be gone for at least six weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings. Ankles have been an absolute disaster for Calgary this year, with Stempniak joining Curtis Glencross, David Moss, and Stajan as guys who have sat long term with ankle injuries.
Miikka Kiprusoff starts in net tonight.
I don't quite understand it, but Chicago has allowed 17 goals in their two trips to Rexall Place this season. After having a nine spot hung on them early in the season, the Blackhawks looked totally out of sorts yesterday, just barely avoiding Edmonton matching their season high goal total. Chicago needs to get their road woes sorted out soon, as their meeting with Calgary tonight is the third of a season-high nine game road trip; in their last six games away from the United Center, the Blackhawks are 0-4-2.
How about the turn of fortune for Brendan Morrison! After being traded by the Flames to Chicago one week ago, the veteran center will play his former team tonight in between two pretty darn good players. Morrison had trouble seeing top six minutes with Calgary, but he's centering Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp tonight for the Blackhawks, so clearly his new team isn't shy about giving him opportunities!
Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Brendan Morrison-Marian Hossa
Marcus Kruger-Dave Bolland-Andrew Shaw
Andrew Brunette-Jamal Mayers-Michael Frolik
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Nick Leddy
Steve Montador-John Scott
Chicago has four fairly solid lines, with their third unit possibly being the NHL's most effective in playing hard defensive minutes and doing good work with them. That's thanks largely in part to Kruger and Bolland, but Shaw has fit in nicely and was runner up to Vancouver's Cody Hodgson for the NHL's Rookie of the Month for January thanks to his strong play. In 13 games, the former fifth round pick has eight points.
Goaltending hasn't been Chicago's strong suit this year, with Corey Crawford playing right around replacement level this year, although showing signs of improvement of late (excluding yesterday). Crawford went a good stretch of games earlier in the season as the backup on this team with Ray Emery taking over the starting slot, but neither have really solidified themselves as go-to goalies at this point. It's speculated Emery will start tonight.
I worked out Calgary's elimination number yesterday because I had gotten a lot of questions asking just how bleak things are for the Flames. The current number sits at 28.5 which still leaves plenty of breathing room if they can get on a run, but certainly shows that the margin for error is slowly getting slimmer. I won't start any type of countdown until the number is under 20, but there's only one way to keep that number from going down: winning.