(Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports)
Last season, the Calgary Flames qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 82. This season, they’ll likely be mathematically eliminated in (or before) Game 75, tonight. What a difference a year can make.
A lot of the math is out of Calgary’s hands. Colorado plays Minnesota in a wild-card positioning battle earlier in the day, and so by the time the Flames even hit the ice they might be mathematically out of it. And if they’re not, they face a tough test in the form of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Can the Flames fend off elimination for one more day? Find out this evening at 8pm MT on CBC and on Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Tonight’s lines via Daily Faceoff:
Joni Ortio makes his 14th start of the season. He’s 4-7-4 with a 2.86 goals against average and a .910 even-strength save percentage. He’s been the best of Calgary’s three goalies of late, which is the textbook definition of faint praise. Deryk Engelland is back from adding a member to his family, so Tyler Wotherspoon heads back to the farm. Josh Jooris remains out of the line-up – he didn’t even skate today – so Freddie Hamilton remains in on the top line.
Which Flames team shows up tonight? Will it be the group that was okayish against Montreal and Minnesota? Or will it be the team that went toe-to-toe with Nashville and St. Louis recently and really grinded out some wins against good clubs? The big challenge for the Flames tonight will be staying out of the box; throughout this season – and particularly against the heavy hitters of the NHL – they have shown an ability to stay in games as long as they don’t give their opponent’s too many man advantages.
Projected lines courtesy of Daily Faceoff:
Scott Darling starts for Chicago tonight, as Corey Crawford is not on the road trip. Darling is 7-7-3 with a 2.59 goals against average and a .920 even-strength save percentage. The Blackhawks are otherwise reasonably healthy, and are getting Marcus Kruger back for the first time in three months.
Chicago’s been off since losing to Dallas on Tuesday, but they’re still a scary-good team that can roll their lines and pairings to make your life miserable. Oh, and their power-play is also terrifying. Chicago’s a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and they’ll be a huge, huge test for the Flames tonight.
WHEN WE LAST MET
This is the third and final contest between these clubs this season. Each team has won once. On November 15 the Flames lost to Chicago 4-1 at the United Center, and on November 22 the Flames beat Chicago 2-1 in overtime at the Saddledome.
All-time against the Blackhawks, the Flames are 65-67-31.
THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM
The Flames are three points ahead of Toronto for dead-last in the NHL and 15 points back of the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot. A Minnesota win against Colorado OR a Flames regulation loss eliminates Calgary from playoff contention.
HOME ICE HERO
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SUM IT UP
Let’s be blunt here: the Flames are going to likely be eliminated from the playoffs this evening. But regardless of the outcomes, it’s the process that’s important right now. If they can make life difficult for a few playoff teams between now and April 9, that’ll go along way towards making them feel a bit better about these late days of the season.