While the Flames are technically in the playoff race by the slimmest of fractions (less than 5% according to sports club stats), functionally both the fans and the players know it’s over. The recent, fully deserved loss at the hands of Darryl Sutter’s Kings was the merciful pillow-over-the-face of the Flames malingering playoff hopes. All that’s left now is to struggle feebly during the final few breaths.
There will be plenty of time to dissect the corpse this off-season, so now is not the time for a post-mortem – particularly with the victim still twitching away. Four games are left in 2011-13 – four more nights to have a few beers, yell at the TV and curse men you’ve likely never actually met. The stress of the life-and-death battle is over and even though the result wasn’t a positive one, at least Flames fans can shed that anxiety and instead enjoy the stray kernals of fun that pop up in these last few contests.
Cory Sarich returns tonight, bumping Clay Wilson to the AHL. Roman Horak was also returned to Abby today, so don’t expect to see him on the Flames again this season.
Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Comeau – Stajan – Stempniak
Jackman – Jones – Kostopolous
Butler – Bouwmeester
Hannan – Giordano
Sarich – Babchuk
Calgary’s third line is an example of what would be an entirely acceptable third line if it didn’t cost $7.9M. Comeau and Stempniak are both guys I wouldn’t mind seeing re-signed in the off-season, assuming the team can get them inked to entirely reasonable contracts – three years or less, less than $2M each and, for the love of god, no NTC/NMC.
As for the first line, after a couple of decent games we saw what happens on Wednesday when they come up against legitimate top-6 competition. Iginla and company were completely outclassed versus the Kings, with possession numbers in the red by double digits and the worst chance differential on the team. Keep in mind, that’s a group of players who cost a combined $16.5M in cap space.
Kipper gets the start in net. I have a feeling we will never seen Henrik Karlsson tending nets for the Flames again, absent a mid-game injury to Miikka.
It’s all over but the crying for the plucky Avalanche as well. They are two points behind both the Sharks and the Kings but have already played a Western Conference high 79 games. Even if they win their last three contests, their best potential point total is 92. That’s probably not going to cut it.
Landeskog – O’Reilly – Downie
McGinn – Stastny – Jones
Mueller – Duchene – Olver
McLeod – McClement – Hejduk
Hunwick – Johnson
O’Byrne – Hejda
O’Brien – Berry
Of course, the disappointment of missing the post-season is assuaged by the sheer number of high level youngsters the Avs possess. A majority of their top-9 players are 25 years old or younger. Duchene, Landeskog, Stastny and O’Reilly are an enviable nucleus up front and Colorado has cap space to spare – they managed to compete this season despite icing one of the cheapest clubs in the league (about $50M).
The only guy on the wrong side of the development curve is lifetime Avalanche Milan Hejduk. Time has finally caught up to the former sniper and he finds himself on Colorado’s fourth line at even strength. The 36-year old might return in a support capacity for the club next year, if mostly just to play his 1000th NHL regular season game (he’s at 988 right now), but it also wouldn’t surprise anyone if he retired outright.
The red hot Semyon Varlamov goes in net.
Story’s over. Kick back and enjoy the credits.