(Candice Ward / USA Today Sports)
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The Calgary Flames had a rough start to the season, going on a skid that included a shootout loss in Vancouver where the only goal they were credited with was scored by the Canucks on their own net. Given their respective starts, it’s somewhat ironic that the Flames can virtually kill the Canucks’ playoff chances tonight at Rogers Arena.
The Flames and Canucks are probably each others’ biggest rivals at this point. Between the importance of their games of each other, the level of emotion displayed by both teams, and occasional craziness like line brawls and other shenanigans, these guys really don’t like each other. The Flames won their first playoff round in over a decade against the Canucks in 2015, they can go a long way towards returning to the post-season this year with a win tonight.
The puck drops at 8 p.m. MT on CBC and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Since he won against Philadelphia in one of the best single game goaltending performances we’ve seen this season, Brian Elliott starts again. He’s 12-13-2 with a 2.79 goals against average and .898 save percentage. He’s creeping up on the .500 mark and a .900 save percentage. He’s improved a ton since his early struggles.
Some changes for the Flames coming off Wednesday’s win. Freddie Hamilton slots in on the fourth line as Alex Chiasson heads to the press box. Matt Bartkowski (wearing #44) replaces Brett Kulak, who’s back in Stockton. It’s Bartkowski’s first NHL game since April 9, 2016 when he was with the Canucks. And there’s a shuffle in the middle six as Ferland replaces Chiasson and Versteeg and Brouwer swap. All-in-all, the new lines seem like a decent mix and a game against Vancouver is a good place to test them out.
The Flames are led offensively by the dynamic trio of leading scorer Mikael Backlund, second leading scorer Matthew Tkachuk and all-around good hockey player Michael Frolik. Backlund has more goals against Vancouver (12) than against any other team in the NHL and really seems to relish the challenge of playing against the Sedin twins. Expect the Flames to sic the 3M trio on the twins again tonight.
Lines via Daily Faceoff:
Jacob Markstrom started and lost against St. Louis on Thursday night, so that means it’s Ryan Miller’s turn in the rotation. He’s 15-16-3 with a 2.65 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. He and Markstrom have been pretty good in spurts this season, but overall they haven’t quite been good enough to cover up for their team’s deficiencies.
Much like how Backlund leading the Flames in scoring is a bit surprising, Bo Horvat is ahead of the Sedins in scoring. He’s also absent right now due to injury, along with Derek Dorsett, Erik Gudbranson, Sven Baertschi and Anton Rodin. The Canucks have been snake-bit by injuries all year and have really lacked consistency. It’s a bit of a shame, too, because some of the youngsters they have on their team are pretty decent. Their group just hasn’t clicked this year.
A NOTE ON HOCKEY DAY
Today is Hockey Day in Canada. Sportsnet is rocking out all day and this game is the back end of a triple header on the CBC. There will be a ton of cool stories about the backgrounds of NHLers. We’re not going to rag on Sportsnet for telling these stories, because they’re worth telling.
But let’s be honest with each other here: it’s expensive to play hockey and expensive to go to games, especially now when the oil price is down and Western Canada’s economy is so-so. If you have the means to do so, please donate what you can to the great people at Kidsport. They help with the costs of getting kids involved in many great sports, including hockey. The folks at the Flames Foundation also have programs that help with the costs of getting into the game and they have a big mega-50/50 program going on right now if you want to donate via that.
And if you have a pair of tickets and cannot use them for whatever reason, please consider donating them to Kids Up Front, which helps get kids that otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to games into the building.
The Flames have played the Canucks more often in the regular season than any other franchise. In their 268 previous meetings, the Flames are 131-90-47. This is their fifth and final meeting this season. The teams have alternated wins and losses, with the home team oddly winning every game. The Flames have one more point than the Canucks do, though, as their first loss in Vancouver came in a shootout.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Your recommended follows from the other side for tonight:
SUM IT UP
The Flames can polish off Vancouver’s slim playoff hopes with a regulation win tonight, as well as give themselves a bit of a buffer on the Kings. It’s an important contest for Calgary and probably represents Vancouver’s last stand.