1. This is basically it
At this point you can basically surmise that the entire 80-game season to this point comes down to tonight’s game with Los Angeles.
Not actually and not all the way, of course, because the Kings could still win and then the playoff outcomes reset to being entirely dependent upon Saturday’s games, but the Flames haven’t played anything even resembling a game this big in years. Let alone one in the regular season.
And obviously the results from Tuesday are critical here. Calgary got by Arizona just fine, which was to be expected, and the Kings dominated the Oilers but lost, because they started Martin Jones for some reason and also didn’t score any goals at all at even strength despite putting 27 shots on net in total.
Just a very odd result that — once again — was a goofy bounce in Calgary’s favor, complementing a season already chock full of them. Had things gone as expected (Calgary and Los Angeles both win), a Flames regulation loss tonight would have essentially ended their season for all intents and purposes. Now, the opposite is true. Flames win in any fashion and Los Angeles is actually done. The Flames would go to the postseason for the first time in six years, and probably get their brains beat in by the Canucks.
2. So what does that mean?
Calgary had better be ready to have the kitchen sink thrown at them, is what it means.
Look, results aside this season, the Flames have gotten smoked in possession in every game they’ve played against the Kings this year. These games haven’t been close. But the Flames have taken three of four meetings between the teams this season (two in OT) so that might portend good things if you’re a Calgary partisan.
Given how high the stakes really are here, though, one has to wonder just how much the Flames are going to be able to resist them again. You can only stick so many fingers in the dam before it bursts and you drown, right?
It’s just such a tough thing to predict or even make expectations. Luck makes up 40 percent of any hockey result, so the Kings could have the puck like 75 percent of the time and still not be assured victory. The most likely result, based on what we’ve seen, is a Calgary loss, but obviously it hasn’t worked out that way to this point, and that’s true of almost every games the Flames have played; they always get outpossessed.
But Los Angeles is going to be raw here. Losing like they did? To Edmonton? That stings, and with both the season on the line and the hiding they took at the hands of one of the worst teams in the league this year, they’re bound to be out for blood. Who knows how that translates, but lack of motivation isn’t going to be a factor on either side.
3. Then there’s Winnipeg
The game on Saturday could end up not mattering at all. Winnipeg and Calgary will both be in if the Flames win tonight, and that means a lot of rest. Like, borderline AHL rosters.
But if not, then this game is one of deep, deep intrigue. Obviously the Flames will probably need to win it to be reasonably assured a spot, because you can’t expect the Kings to lose to the Oilers and Sharks in the same week. And obviously, it might not be easy, because Dustin Byfuglien will be back for that one regardless, and that makes the hill just a little more difficult to climb. Not impossible, because if anything, this season has proven that the Flames are perfectly capable of defying the odds. They’ve picked up all these wins when they absolutely shouldn’t have. They got career-best performances from guys who have no business giving them. They’ve continued to win even after losing a basically guaranteed Norris winner for the season.
So no, two wins in these final two games shouldn’t be that difficult by those parameters. But at the same time, the Flames have never had the horses to make things easy on themselves unless they were playing truly bad teams. They win despite themselves, really. Granted, Winnipeg’s spot in the playoffs is more or less secured. Most simulations have them at least in the 90 percent range when it comes to their odds at this point — it would take a confluence of circumstances for the last two playoff spots to go to Los Angeles and Calgary; the Flames would have to lose to the Kings but beat the Jets, while the Kings beat San Jose — but you don’t get the feeling that they’d just lay down for the Flames either, even if they would prefer the Kings not make the postseason.
As with the Kings, but obviously not to the same extent, the Jets are a much better team than the Flames both on paper and on the ice. They also have a weirdly hot goaltender in Ondrej Pavelec (I can’t believe it either) who’s going to make it difficult for teams to do much against them. Unless, of course, Winnipeg starts Michael Hutchinson for No. 82 instead.
But the Flames have a few days to worry about that. If they have to at all.
4. A word about Sean Monahan
I’ve gotten a lot of crap from Flames fans for the past week or so — a pleasant change of pace — because I didn’t think Sean Monahan should have been on the team last season, and that I thought he wasn’t very good for the full 82.
“Well he’s on 30 goals and 30 assists now,” they said, “so obviously you were wrong.”
Well, not really. My main objection to him being on the roster last season was that it burned a year of his entry-level deal and got him a year closer to free agency. Moreover, the fact that he did often struggle last season did nothing to dissuade me of the belief that he was best left in junior.
That, though, has nothing to do with what has been a very good season here in 2014-15. Did playing against NHLers for the majority of last season help his development? We can’t prove it definitively one way or another. All we know now is that it certainly didn’t hurt.
But it did burn that year (again, for no reason; the Flames get run over with or without him), meaning next season is his contract year. Meaning that kid’s eligible to get paid a boatload of money starting July 1. He’d be a fool to accept an offer, because if he can build on this season he’s probably looking at Ryan Johansen money in 2016-17.
Great to have a guy worth that much, not so great to have to pay him if the team isn’t playoff-competitive. And that’s a real risk.
5. A helpful reminder
Don’t forget, gang. Two college hockey games that will be of interest to you air this afternoon. We’re talkin’ 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. local time, which should serve as a nice precursor to the big Kings/Flames game. Both are on TSN2.
The early game features Providence College (with Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, and John Gilmour) taking on Nebraska-Omaha in the national semifinal. Then a few hours later, it’s BU (Brandon Hickey and Jack Eichel) versus North Dakota. My prediction is that both the teams with Flames prospects advance, because they are better than the ones without them.
Should that be the case and they both advance, or one of the two advances (or neither and you just wanna watch a good college hockey game), the national title game is at 5:30 on Saturday on TSN3.
I’d recommend tuning in.