FGD #49: Taming the Wild (7pm MT; SN West)

After a decisive win over the worst team in hockey, the Calgary Flames (26-19-3) return to action tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome! But instead of facing a team with zero playoff hopes, the Flames are instead hosting the Minnesota Wild (21-20-6), a team that still has playoff hopes.

Well, dimming hopes. The team from the State of Hockey is seven points back from Calgary for the final playoff spot in the West. A loss to the Flames would put them nine points back, really kicking their post-season dreams in the teeth.

The Flames are simultaneously the hunter – of a divisional playoff spot currently held by San Jose and Vancouver – and the hunted – with four teams chasing them from below. A win tonight would trim the list of pursuers to three.

The puck drops tonight at 7pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

THE FLAMES

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Jonas Hiller gets the start again. He’s 14-13-2, with a 2.42 goals against average, a .912 save percentage and a .928 even-strength save percentage. Karri Ramo’s backing up.

I don’t imagine that Bob Hartley will make any big changes. The Flames played well against Buffalo and even scored a goal on the power-play! (And a second goal juuuust at the end of a power-play!) So I can’t see many changes. But man, Mason Raymond needs to get something going. Plays just seem to die on his stick nowadays, and I’m wondering, in the midst of a tense playoff race, how long Hartley can keep him in the line-up.

Tyler Wotherspoon, David Wolf and Sven Baertschi look to be the extra bodies. Curtis Glencross was back skating yesterday but remains on the IR. Ladislav Smid and Sam Bennett are both also out.

THE WILD

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Devan Dubnyk is expected to start. Between Arizona and the Wild, he’s put up a 12-6-2 record with a 2.58 goals against average, .915 save percentage and .931 even-strength save percentage. He was brought in a couple weeks back to basically save the Wild’s season. (Alternately: he was rescued from Arizona. Take your pick.)

In a weird scheduling quirk, this is the first time we’ve seen the Wild in terms of games against the Flames, but they’re a team that should be better than they are. They have a good first defensive pairing. They have a pretty solid four forward lines. They have a lot of good young talent – I particularly like Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter. But everyone seems to have picked the same season to underachieve, and it’s pushing the team downwards in the standings.

For so many reasons, the Wild are a fragile team this year – both physically and mentally. Backstrom hasn’t been great. Kuemper’s been hurt. They brought Dubnyk in. Nobody’s really taken this team on their back. They’re like the Bizarro Flames; every single game it seems the Flames figure out how to win, while lately it seems like the Wild look for ways to lose.

Granted, that’s the past. If they can figure out something, watch out, because they’re a talented bunch and there’s still 30+ games to go. (A loss against the Flames may put them far enough back that their hopes could vanish, though, so tonight’s a big game for them, too.)

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

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Another busy night for playoff chase watchers.

  • Winnipeg (60 points) faces Philadelphia!
  • Dallas (49 points) faces Ottawa!
  • San Jose (56 points) faces Anaheim!

If Anaheim and Calgary both win in regulation tonight, the Flames could be in sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division.

SUM IT UP

Hey, Calgary Flames? Want to build up a buffer between you and the pack chasing you? Want to potentially leap-frog some divisional foes and, at least temporarily, get yourselves into second place in your division?

Well, to do that, you just need to beat a team that’s well below you in the standings right now.