Okay so Calgary’s playoff hopes are still very much mathematical in nature, and a whole lot has to happen for them to get to the promised land…but after an impressive Friday night in St. Louis, the Flames still have mathematical life. A win tonight over the Colorado Avalanche would guarantee that fact would remain true, and really, there’s no excuse for the Flames not to leave the Pepsi Center without two points (6 pm, Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
With some important games to be played tonight, this number may very well change, but here’s how things look for the Flames heading into tonight…
Elimination Number: 1.5
With Chicago playing Tampa tonight, Calgary could technically be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and a Blackhawks point. I don’t see the Flames losing to Colorado, so they will likely still be alive following tonight, regardless of what Chicago does. Also of note, the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars play tonight.
Things are a little hazy with the team not skating in Denver this morning, but we do know a few things. Niklas Hagman was back skating with the team yesterday at practice, and there’s a possibility he may return to the lineup this evening. You’d imagine he’d probably replace Greg Nemisz, but that’s just speculation right now. Curtis Glencross was not on the ice yesterday for practice, but he’s likely to play tonight. These are projected lines minus Hagman…
Alex Tanguay-Daymond Langkow-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma-Mikael Backlund-Greg Nemisz
It didn’t take long for Langkow to be bumped up the depth chart, after starting Friday’s game as the "fourth line center". Langkow’s effort really was incredible against the Blues, playing just under 15 minutes, setting up the tying goal and showing the things that make him as important a player to this team as he is. The fact that he did all that after missing 88 games and 376 days is even more remarkable. But most importantly, to think of the severity of the injury he suffered, to be playing high level hockey at all is amazing…but in a top line role in the NHL? That blows me away.
Iginla will look to feed off his great effort Friday, where he was dominant from start to finish and was probably the best player on the ice. Jarome reached the 1000 point plateau by playing the style of hockey that has turned him into a first ballot Hall of Famer. I felt it was pretty fitting seeing him play a game like that the same night he reached the millenium mark.
On the blueline, Cory Sarich got bumped down the depth chart in favor of Brett Carson in St. Louis, and I actually liked the way Carson played. He had over 16 minutes of ice time, by far the most he’s played in a Flames uniform, and it sounds like he’ll be playing again tonight. Getting Carson in the lineup gives the team a chance to evaluate a pending RFA player, and it adds to the body of work they’ll draw on in deciding whether to re-sign him or not. Here are projected D pairings for tonight…
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Brett Carson
Anton Babchuk-Cory Sarich
Miikka Kiprusoff gets the start in net tonight for the Flames.
The Avs haven’t been overwhelmingly terrible in their last number of games, but they’re just not a very good hockey team, so being simply "not terrible" isn’t going to win them very many contests. Colorado is coming off a 4-3 shootout win in Phoenix, and they’ve been close in games with other Western Conference opponents. In fact, the last time these teams met, the Avalanche had some jump and played Calgary tight until the Flames were able to put the hockey game away in the third period.
Friday’s win in Phoenix was Peter Budaj’s 100th career NHL win, all with the Avalanche, and it sounds like he’ll get the start tonight. Goaltending has been the biggest story this season for the team, and the lack of quality they’ve gotten from a number of different guys. Craig Anderson took some parting shots at the organization after signing with the Ottawa Senators a few weeks ago, but his level of play was far below what we saw from him last year. He was traded for Brian Elliott, who’s been okay…but this team needs more than average goaltending. They need great goaltending, because again, they’re just not good enough to win without it.
One of the reasons this team isn’t good enough is because they’ve also been beat right up. A healthy Avs team might still be in this playoff race, or at the very least, not way back in 14th place. Up front, they’re without Tomas Fleischmann and TJ Galiardi for the remainder of the season, while they haven’t had Peter Mueller all year as he recovers from a concussion. On the back end, Adam Foote, Kyle Quincey, and Kyle Cumiskey have all been out for long periods of time. It takes it’s toll, and eventually you’ll end up like the Oilers if you keep inserting unproven AHL-level players into an NHL lineup.
Daniel Winnik-Paul Stastny-David Jones
Kevin Porter-Matt Duchene-Milan Hejduk
Ryan Stoa-Ryan O’Reilly-Jay McClement
Cody McLeod-Phillipe Dupuis-Brandon Yip
John-Michael Liles-Ryan O’Byrne
Matt Hunwick-Erik Johnson
David Koci-Jonos Holos
We’ll see what the Avalanche have tonight, but they seem like a team ready to hit the links and get this nightmare season over with.
Plain and simple, a Flames win and they’re not eliminated from the playoff picture, regardless of what happens out of town. So, that’s all Calgary can focus on. I’m not overly impressed with the Flames myself as of late, and nothing of their last 15 games shows me they’ll be the "red hot force" some think they might if they make the playoffs. Calgary hasn’t beat a team in front of them in the standings, and they’ve needed to mount furious comebacks against the likes of the Oilers and Blues. If they can buck their trend of mediocre starts to games, I’ll be a little more confident in their ability to do something IF they luck into a playoff spot.