FGD: Almost Game Over

The margin for error couldn’t be any slimmer for the Calgary Flames, and even then, their playoff fate could be decided elsewhere by the end of the evening.  With Calgary clinging to postseason life by a thread, they get set for round six of the Battle of Alberta, hosting the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the ‘Dome (7:30 pm, Sportsnet Flames and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).

It wasn’t the worst possible scenario Tuesday night out of town, but it was pretty darn close.  Chicago’s overtime loss in Montreal got them to 93 points on the season, while a Dallas Stars 1-0 win over Columbus drew them even with Calgary at 91 points.

Elimination Number: 1

Calgary is chasing Chicago and Anaheim, who both have 93 points with three games remaining, and who both play tonight.  The Hawks take on St. Louis while Anaheim plays host to the red hot San Jose Sharks, and those games will obviously impact the Flames.  However, a Calgary loss will render those games immaterial, so making sure the Flames beat the Oilers is still the number one concern.

The Lineup

The lineup will be unchanged for the Flames this evening, with two things to watch for as the team returns home for the first time in a week.  After registering his 1000th NHL point Friday in St. Louis, captain Jarome Iginla will be recognized for his accomplishment and will garner quite the response from the crowd; however, that’ll probably be equalled the first time Daymond Langkow is shown on the big screen.  Langkow plays his third game back after missing 376 days with a neck injury, and tonight will be his first home game.

Langkow was centering the second line for the Flames at practice yesterday, as it was an optional skate this morning.  The best part about him is his versatility, and it shows because he was able to add to the top line in his first couple games back.  Langkow can do the job in an offensive role, and is equally as good in a shutdown role, which is why having him back on the team is so valuable.  Here are lines and pairings tonight…

Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Daymond Langkow-Tom Kostopoulos
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-Tim Jackman
Lance Bouma-Matt Stajan-Greg Nemisz

Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Brett Carson
Anton Babchuk-Cory Sarich

No real surprise as to who starts in net, as Miikka Kiprusoff gets the nod after playing a very strong game on Sunday night.  Kiprusoff had one of his strongest outings of the season, especially as the Flames were outchanced to a large degree in the second period.  Kiprusoff made some big stops in the third as well, and Calgary was able to come away with a much needed 2-1 win.

The Opponent

Playing out the string is about as accurate as you can get for Edmonton right now, and they’ve been doing it for months.  And yet, the NHL’s worst team has just taken two straight wins against the NHL’s best team, shutting out the President’s Trophy winning Canucks last night 2-0, three days after a 4-1 win in Vancouver.  Now, there are plenty of reasons for it…the Oilers really are playing loose, care free hockey while the Canucks are waiting for the postseason to begin; the season they’ll really be judged on.

This Oilers team just cannot stay healthy, and they lost another right before last night’s game against the Canucks.  Defenceman Tom Gilbert was a late scratch thanks to a back injury, expediting Jason Strudwick’s return to the lineup.  Gilbert eats a lot of minutes for the team, so it’s obviously going to be a loss for them.  He seems doubtful for tonight, but we won’t know until gametime with Edmonton not skating this morning.

Up front is where the real injury issues are for the Oilers, as Ryan Whitney is the other significant loss on the blueline.  The forward ranks are without probably their four most important players, in Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff.  As such, players are playing way over their skis right now in roles they just aren’t ready for at this point, and may never be ready for down the road.

Liam Reddox-Andrew Cogliano-Linus Omark
Teemu Hartikainen-Chris VandeVelde-Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi-Ryan O’Marra-Ryan Jones
Steve MacIntyre-J.F. Jacques

Ladislav Smid-Jim Vandermeer
Theo Peckham-Jeff Petry
Jason Strudwick-Kurtis Foster
Taylor Chorney

A couple interesting notes from last night.  First, Edmonton technically went with 17 skaters, but MacIntyre didn’t see one single shift throughout, so Head Coach Tom Renney actually only went with 16 players for the entire game.  Neither Gilbert Brule nor Colin Fraser dressed for the game, however they may be able to go tonight, so that would obviously change the above lines.  Also, Strudwick will likely see time as a forward and a defencemen tonight.

Head Coach Tom Renney hinted that Nikolai Khabibulin would get the start in net last night, and that looks to be the case.  Devan Dubnyk posted the shutout yesterday, so it wouldn’t be totally shocking if Renney went back to him, but it sounds like the Russian tender will get the nod.

The Story

The last time these two teams played, it was the story of two different games I guess.  Edmonton was the better team for 50 minutes, and had Calgary on their heels, holding a 4-1 third period lead.  An Oilers win would have sealed the playoff envelope for the Flames, but they were able to march back and win in a shootout.  It was a loss that crushed Edmonton, at least from all reports, as they really were relishing the opportunity to deliver a crushing blow.  They have that opportunity again tonight, but for whatever reason, I just don’t think lightning will strike twice.