For the second straight season, the Calgary Flames will play 82 regular season games and nothing more. And for the second straight year, with their non-playoff fate sealed, the Flames close the season against the Vancouver Canucks…this time at the ‘Dome (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960). Last season, the season finale was played on the west coast, and Calgary was rolled in a rather useless effort…something you hope doesn’t happen in front of a home crowd tonight.
The Flames were eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday night, thanks to Chicago and Anaheim wins, and regardless of a third straight Calgary win, this time over Edmonton. What was encouraging for me was an admission from Mikael Backlund that the team knew things were over after 40 minutes in that game, yet the team still came out and laid the boots to the Oilers in the third period, scoring three more goals in a 6-1 win.
It sounds like Henrik Karlsson will get the start in net for the Flames tonight, meaning Miikka Kiprusoff will remain tied with Mike Vernon on the Calgary all time wins list. He posted win 262 Wednesday at home to the Oilers, and he’ll set the mark in October if he doesn’t start tonight…but it might have been a nice moment to give the home fans after another non playoff year. That said, Karlsson is fighting for a job next year, and in the interest of evaluation, another start for the Swedish rookie might be very important for him and the team.
Calgary sent both Greg Nemisz and Lance Bouma back to Abbotsford Thursday, in the interest of helping the Heat in their push for a playoff spot. As a result, Calgary will dress eight defencemen and go with just ten natural forwards, with Brendan Mikkelson taking reps up front in practice yesterday. With an optional skate this morning, and no line rushes yesterday, here’s what we’re anticipating for tonight…
Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Daymond Langkow-Tom Kostopoulos
Rene Bourque-Olli Jokinen-Tim Jackman
Matt Stajan-Brendan Mikkelson
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Brett Carson
Anton Babchuk-Cory Sarich
Obviously with a missing forward and an extra defenceman, things will change throughout the game, but those should be the go-to combo’s for Head Coach Brent Sutter tonight. I was asked about Backlund a few times in regards to Bouma and Nemisz being reassigned to Abbotsford. He’s centering the top line, and he’ll get value out of this game tonight, so there’s no use in sending him down too, however, there’s a strong chance the team would assign him to the Heat if they’re still alive after the game at the ‘Dome tonight.
It seems like Calgary will not be represented all that well for Team Canada at the upcoming World Championships in Slovakia. Vicki Hall of the Calgary Herald reports Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, Mark Giordano, and Jay Bouwmeester all turned Hockey Canada down for different reasons. Giordano played last year along with Rene Bourque, who seemingly didn’t get an invite…something that doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Oh great, just as they head into the postseason as a legit Stanley Cup contender, they get even MORE good news. First off, Alexander Edler returned Thursday in Vancouver’s 5-0 whooping of Minnesota, as the team got their best defenceman back in the lineup for the first time since January 24th. Tonight, it’ll be another important blueliner returning, with Dan Hamhuis expected to suit up for the final game of the season after missing four contests with his second concussion this season. There are few bluelines scarier than Vancouver’s, and it’ll be almost fully in tact tonight, with only Andrew Alberts still to come back from the regular corps.
Ryan Kesler reached the 40 goal mark on Thursday, reaching that plateau for the first time in his career. The guy has been dominant this season, and is a full on Selke Trophy contender in my eyes. Henrik and Daniel don’t need the help, but having a freak like Kesler helps those two pile up the points. Straight up, this team isn’t a Cup contender without this guy, they just aren’t. His possession rate is stupid, with a 17.38 Corsi number…which is good for anyone, regardless of situation. Add in the quality of opposition he plays against every single night AND his 49.9% offensive zone start…he is just a ridiculously good player.
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Chris Higgins-Ryan Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson
Tanner Glass-Mason Raymond-Jannik Hansen
Aaron Rome-Maxim LapierreJeff Tambellini
Dan Hamhuis-Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler-Christian Ehrhoff
Sami Salo-Keith Ballard
Missing from the above combinations are two forwards. Raffi Torres will miss his second game of a four game suspension tonight, with two games carrying over to the first round of the playoffs. His hit on Jordan Eberle of the Oilers on Tuesday earned him the punishment, a sentence some love and some despise, depending mostly on what city you’re from. Also missing is Manny Malhotra, who is done for the season with a serious eye injury. All Canucks joking aside, you really do hope for the best with him, because it’s career threatening and nobody likes to see things like that happen…to anyone.
It looks like Cory Schneider will get the start in net for the Canucks, which is like going from a Bentley to a Ferrari this season. In 21 starts this season, Schneider has been stellar backing up Roberto Luongo, going 15-4-2 and cementing himself as one of the hottest trade commodities of the off season. It’s almost set in stone the team will trade Schneider, and get a good return for him. Sigh.
Coach Sutter was extremely disappointed with his crew last season when they were rolled by the Canucks in the final game of the season. It stuck with him all summer long, and if something similar happens tonight, I imagine it will stick with fans all summer long too. Last year the game was on the road. This year it’s in front of 19,000 people. Hopefully the Flames will give their faithful something to cheer about before the summer of uncertainty and negativity begins.