The Flames season of irony continued yesterday. Calgary as a team played their best game in recent memory…and, of course, ended up losing by a wide margin. Some of that is a credit to the team they were playing, but really, it’s just par for the course for this club in 2009-10.
Through two periods, the Flames basically played the ‘Hawks to a draw at even strength (aside from the the scoreboard). Shots and scoring chances by both teams were side-by-side, with the Flames second and third lines again looking the most competent up front. Unfortunately, by the 15 minute mark of the middle frame, the Blackhawks were already up by three owing to their superior finishing ability. While Ian White would score on a nifty individual effort not long after that to make things interesting, the truth is the outcome was never in doubt after that point. The Flames may be able to pull off comebacks in Detroit, but Chicago has become the Place Where Hope Dies for Calgary over the last two seasons.
Chicago sat back in the third and the Flames actually pressed pretty hard to be get back into the contest. They would end up outshooting the Hawks 11-8 and outchancing them 8-3, but to no avail. Dustin Byfuglien would be the only goal scorer of the frame. Interestingly, Brent Sutter moved Rene Bourque up to play with Nik Hagman and Matt Stajan to play in Iginla’s stead when the game was still somewhat within reach. The reason being – and advanced stats bear this out – is that Bourque was having an excellent of an afternoon (while Iginla, predictably at this point, continued to struggle). No Flames player was on the ice for more defensive zone draws yesterday (9) or had a bigger zone start differential (-6) than Bourque and yet he finished in the black in terms of possession (+6 corsi) and scoring chances (+2). That’s a very good body of work against a team as strong as Chicago. It didn’t turn the tide in the contest, but was a bright spot nonetheless.
1.) Antti Niemi – Finish rookie was solid all game and was the primary difference maker for the Hawks.
2.) Patrick Kane – Led Chicago with two points, including his unstoppable snap shot to the top corner.
3.) Rene Bourque – ended up -1 with just one shot, but was probably the Flames best overall forward, constantly driving the puck forward and winning board battles.
The Big Save
With the Flames pressing in the third period, Niemi made an impressive shoulder save on a Matt Stajan deflection to preserve the 2 goal cushion.
What it Means
With the Flames loss combined with the Avalanche victory over the Sharks, Calgary falls two back of the Avs with just three games remaining. That means even if the Flames goes 3-0 to end the season (95 points), Colorado can still make the dance by going 2-0-2 or 1-3-0. Hopes for a playoff birth aren’t completely dead, but they’re now dimmer than ever.
The Flames face the increasingly medicore Sharks at the Dome on Tuesday night.