The Calgary Flames continuing their Playing Out The String 2016 tour this evening, as they visit the scenic Twin Cities area to play the Minnesota Wild.
The game is a homecoming for goalie Niklas Backstrom, and the significance of this game ends there for the visitors. The Flames have gone .500 on this trip to date, and they’re facing a club that needs to win this game to give themselves a shot to make the playoffs. The Flames are trying things out and letting a 38-year-old veteran get a second start because…it’s what they had to promise him (reportedly) to get him to waive his no-move clause and get them a late draft pick.
So no matter what happens tonight, just close your eyes and imagine what a sixth round pick could be. Andrew Mangiapane was a sixth round pick.
Tonight’s game begins at 6pm MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Niklas Backstrom makes his 411th career NHL appearance, and just his second since January 2015. He won his only other start with the Flames back on Sunday in a 4-1 win over Montreal. He was good, but he wasn’t challenged a ton, and Montreal isn’t nearly as desperate (or battle-tested) as the Wild are. The Flames will be without Karri Ramo, Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman tonight. Freddie Hamilton and Tyler Wotherspoon are both still technically up on emergency recall as of this morning.
The Flames were okay-ish against Toronto, but that wasn’t good enough to beat a very plucky young Leafs squad. Now they face a team that’s actually competitive, and that is in a battle not to tank, but for a playoff berth. (Remember those?) The Flames can play spoiler with a victory here, and can continue to test out potential young internal replacements for some of their departing (and soon-to-depart?) older pieces.
For the curious? Niklas Backstrom is basically Minnesota’s version of Miikka Kiprusoff. His return is a pretty big deal in Minnesota, even though he wasn’t particularly great for his last couple of years there.
Projected lines via Daily Faceoff:
Devan Dubnyk will likely start for the Wild. He’s 29-22-6 with a 2.35 goals against average and .930 even-strength save percentage. Dubnyk’s been good, and occasionally great, for a Wild club that’s been all over the road this season but has really gelled under new coach John Torchetti. Jason Pominville returns tonight. He’s missed seven games with a groin injury. The Wild have shuffled their lines, which could be good or bad depending on how their chemistry settles out.
Thomas Vanek also returns to the line-up after being a healthy scratch. He’s been okay this season with 41 points in 70 games. But he’s also seemingly drawn the ire of Torchetti, and apparently a rite of passage as Wild coach is benching Vanek for a few games just for the sake of it. Vanek’s signed for one more season after this one and while he’s quite talented, he’s also been benched here and there for the last couple of seasons. We’ll see how he responds to his exile.
WHEN LAST WE MET
This is the second of three meetings between Calgary and Minnesota this year. The Flames already lost to the Wild last month, losing 5-3 at home. They’ll play one last time in Calgary’s final game of the season on April 9.
The Flames are 42-25-14 all-time against the Wild.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are five points up on last-place Toronto, and “just” 13 points back of Minnesota for the last wild-card spot in the West.
Calgary’s “tragic number” is 3; any combination of 3 Minnesota wins or Flames losses results in mathematical elimination for the Flames. After tonight, that number can drop to one if Minnesota wins in regulation.
SUM IT UP
The Flames can either play spoiler this evening, or be pushed to the verge of elimination. After tonight, there are eight games remaining in the 2015-16 season.