FGD #81: Beat The Champs (7pm MT, SN West)

It all comes down to this.

80 games, 1521 blocked shots, 20+ dramatic comebacks, and several improbable and unlikely happenings for the Calgary Flames have put them in a rather enviable position heading into the 81st game of this campaign.

Win and they’re in.

The Flames are hosting the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings. The Flames need two points to clinch a playoff berth. A regulation win clinches a spot for the Flames and the Winnipeg Jets, who would win the second wild-card position. An overtime win would push the Kings into a fevered battle with the Jets for that spot.

The Kings are going to be a desperate bunch after letting a game get away from them on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers. But the Flames are going to be desperate as well; they’d love to go into Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon and be able to play some young guys and rest some veterans. They don’t care about having two chances to clinch.

They want to do it tonight. With the potential of a war with the Vancouver Canucks on the horizon, you could argue that they need to do it tonight.

Puck drops at 7pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan. And I think it goes without saying that this is the franchise’s most important game since 2009.

THE FLAMES

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Jonas Hiller gets the start tonight. It’s start number 44 for him on the year. He’s 25-19-4 with a 2.39 goals against average and .917 save percentage. The recently activated (and recalled) Joni Ortio will back him up.

With Lance Bouma out, Brandon Bollig slots back in. Also injured for the locals are Mark Giordano, Ladislav Smid, Karri Ramo and Paul Byron (and Raphael Diaz!). Your extra bodies for tonight are Tyler Wotherspoon, Drew Shore and Sam Bennett. If the Flames win tonight, I’d expect to see all of them against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

What else can be said? The Flames have managed to get out-shot or out-chanced in the majority of this season’s games, and they’ve managed to win 44 of them. Now they just need to squeeze one more win out. They have a safety net – Saturday against the Jets. The Kings? They don’t. Expect the Kings to come out guns-a-blazin’. If Calgary can deal with Los Angeles’ desperation and match it with their own, then they can win tonight.

They’ll just need to do what they’ve done all year: minimize dangerous chances, play a structured game and be opportunistic.

THE KINGS

Lines, via Daily Faceoff:

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Per Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider, the extras at yesterday’s practice for the Kings were Pearson, Richards, Andreoff and McBain.

Jonathan Quick is expected to get the start for the Kings after sitting out their loss up in Edmonton. He’s making his 70th start of the season. He’s 35-21-13 with a 2.26 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He’ll need to be sharp with the Kings’ season on the line.

The Kings are a desperate bunch right now. They need a point from this game to stay alive. And they’ve had trouble beating Calgary this season.

QUOTEABLE

“We’re excited. We worked all year for those games, and here we are, so we enjoy them basically…those big games we’ve been playing them all year. Tonight, we understand why we’re playing, but once again we’ll put trust in our players and let them play the game.”
-Bob Hartley

“It sucks, to put it nicely, to be sitting out and looking…guys are playing and you want to be there playing with the guys. But it’s part of the business, and I just tried to focus all of my energy on rehabbing and getting back as quickly as possible.”
-Joni Ortio

“It’s just the same message it has been all year: we have to go out and play our game. You know, we know how they play, we know what they can do, and how good of a team they are. We just have to be ready to use our speed and try to get pucks in behind them.”
-Dennis Wideman

“I think a game like this, we’re just preparing to go out and do what we gotta do. You know, we’ve played them four times this year so we know what they’re all about and we’re getting ready to go for the big match.”
-Kyle Clifford

THE NUMBERS

Calgary Los Angeles
Wins 44 39
Last Ten 6-2-2 5-4-1
Power Play 19.0% (11th) 19.3% (9th)
Penalty Kill 80.2% (22nd) 81.0% (17th)
Corsi 44.4% (28th) 55.1% (1st)
Corsi Close 45.0% (27th) 54.1% (3rd)
Faceofs 47.5% (26th) 51.4% (11th)
PDO 101.3 (3rd) 100.2 (17th)

THE DRIVE TO 97

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The cut-off line is 97 points, folks. If Calgary can get there, it’s game over for the Kings and game on for the playoffs.

SUM IT UP

A win tonight, and the Calgary Flames return to the post-season at the expense of the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Would there be any better way for this crazy, crazy year to finish off?