After 59 previous games have brought them to the brink, it has all come down to this – the Brier road trip.
For the previous five months, you can argue that the Calgary Flames have over-achieved. They have, at times, played over their heads. They’ve had good goaltending bailing out a team that’s been wildly out-shot. They’ve had bad goaltending bailed out by preposterously hot shooting. They’ve had rookies step in and win games. They’ve had unexpected scoring depth.
Chatting with media over the weekend, Flames general manager Brad Treliving joked that the team would’ve loved to have been in this situation when the season began. Before leaving for the road trip, Bob Hartley made similar comments. The Flames (32-23-4) enter this seven-gamer with 68 points. 95 will likely be the magic number. That means they’ll need to scrape together 27 points in the remaining 23 games.
The Epic Brier Road Trip of Epicness begins tonight in Manhattan, with a date with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers (36-16-6) beat the Flames 5-2 back in December at the Saddledome, during that stretch where Calgary couldn’t find a win with two hands and a flashlight. They will obviously need to be better tonight.
Puck drop is at 5pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Karri Ramo gets the start tonight. It’s an interesting move, considering that Ramo was lit up – four goals on 13 shots – when the Rangers visited Calgary before Christmas. He’s won just once (against Vancouver) since December 4. He was good against Vancouver and shaky against Boston. But it’s a back-to-back with travel, so splitting the starts does make some logical sense. Ramo’s 9-5-1 with a 2.59 goals against average and .904 save percentage this season. It’s his 19th start of the season.
Paul Byron (“all-over-injury,” per Hartley) is on the injured reserve. Matt Stajan is back home awaiting an addition to his family. That leaves Corey Potter and the recently recalled Michael Ferland and Emile Poirier as extras tonight, presuming Hartley’s not just trolling us with his line rushes. As we get closer to the post-season, expect more optional skates and Hartley playing more wacky games.
The Flames will need to get offense from all over the line-up, as the Rangers are a well-coached, well-constructed team that has both depth and, because it’s in MSG, last change. Gaudreau may not be a factor here because the Rangers may seek to isolate him, but that means scoring from the other lines will be crucial.
Lines via Daily Faceoff!
With Henrik Lundqvist still on the shelf, expect Cam Talbot to get the start tonight in the Big Apple. He’s 10-5-3 with a 2.59 goals against average and .911 save percentage. Like his counterpart tonight, he’s also making his 19th start of the season. Spooky.
The Rangers are, to nobody’s amazement, a solid hockey club. They went to the Stanley Cup Final last year. They have a well-constructed defensive group. They have a talented, young forward group. They are coached by Alain Vigneault, who is a pretty smart coach.
In other words – the Flames have a tough game tonight. The Rangers’ biggest weakness right now is their goaltending, and their starting goalie is younger than Karri Ramo and just as good statistically.
|Power Play||17.5% (22nd)||18.4% (15th)|
|Penalty Kill||80.0% (21st)||83.0% (10th)|
|Corsi||44.6% (28th)||49.9% (18th)|
|Corsi Close||45.8% (26th)||50.9% (16th)|
|Faceoffs||47.8% (26th)||46.9 (29th)|
|PDO||101.5 (3rd)||102.3 (1st)|
THE DRIVE TO 95
The Flames enter the evening just a single point out of a playoff spot! Well, technically tied with the Kings, who have a game in hand, but earning a point gets them in! (Unless Minnesota or Los Angeles get a point tonight, too.)
Other games tonight for the scoreboard-watchers like me:
- 5pm MT: Vancouver at Boston! (on Sportsnet 360)
- 6pm MT: Colorado at Nashville!
- 6pm MT: Edmonton at Minnesota! (on Sportsnet Oilers)
- 6pm MT: Dallas at Winnipeg! (on TSN3)
- 8:30pm MT: Detroit at Los Angeles! (on Sportsnet as the late game)
SUM IT UP
The best way to begin a gigantic road trip? Winning. The Flames are somehow in the midst of a playoff battle as they cross the 60-game mark (of year two of the rebuild). Don’t ask how you got here. Just keep it up, if you can.