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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports

FGD 69: Inviting the Champions to Town (7pm MT, SN West)

Way, way back in early February, the Calgary Flames strolled into Pittsburgh and played one of their best games of the season. They beat the defending Stanley Cup champions 3-2. For a team that was just a smidge over .500, it was a step in the right direction in terms of reinforcing good habits and building the team’s confidence.

The Flames host the Penguins tonight in the finale of their season series. The Penguins are limping into Calgary with a slew of injuries, although they’re still rolling along in the standings. But the Flames are the hottest team in hockey right now and have gone from a team that would be fortunate to make the playoffs to a team that’s in the hunt for home ice in the first round. It’s a big game for both teams, and it’s likely a game that the surging Flames feel they can win if they play the way they’ve been playing over the past several weeks.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. MT on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet 960 The Fan!

THE FLAMES

Lines via Daily Faceoff:

Given that he hasn’t allowed a goal in over two full games, Brian Elliott gets the nod tonight. He’s 20-13-3 with a 2.51 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. He’s been good and occasionally great over the past month and a half.

The Flames are without Ladislav Smid (neck, LTIR) and Michael Stone (upper body, day-to-day) for tonight. Rasmus Andersson is still with the club on an emergency basis, just in case Dougie Hamilton can’t play, but his participation in actual games is becoming less and less likely given how effective Hamilton was on Saturday. Stone skated on his own this morning, which suggests that he may be closer to returning than many originally anticipated.

If the Flames can have a better first period than they did against Winnipeg, they have a decent chance of getting some points. The Penguins are injury-riddled and the Flames are rolling. A win both extends the Calgary Flames record winning streak and ties the Atlanta Flames’ 1978 10-game winning streak for the longest in franchise history.

THE PENGUINS

Lines via Daily Faceoff, combined with my guesses:

Based on morning skate, sounds like Marc-Andre Fleury starts for Pittsburgh (and not Matt Murray, who just shut out Vancouver). He’s 17-8-5 with a 3.04 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. He’s been good for Pittsburgh this season, but he’s starting to show the wear and tear of playing as often as he has in his career.

Due to injuries the Penguins rolled with seven defensemen and 11 forwards on Saturday, basically double-shifting Sidney Crosby’s line, barely using the fourth line, and playing seventh defenseman Cameron Gaunce for just 3:19. It’s unclear if they’re going with that philosophy again, but it’s primarily a reflection of the team’s injury barrage (and a lack of pro depth in the forward ranks). Right now, the Penguins have zero extra healthy bodies (and very little cap space). Josh Archibald was summoned from the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this morning and presumably slots in, because otherwise they won’t have enough forwards for tonight.

For what it’s worth, the Penguins are without Matt Cullen, Daniel Sprong, Bryan Rust, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin due to various injuries. Tom Sestito will be serving the third game of his four game suspension for boarding Toby Enstrom last week.

THE NUMBERS

FLAMES PENGUINS
Wins 38 43
Points
(Pct.)
80
(.588)
94
(.701)
Power Play 20.0% 22.9%
Penalty Kill 80.8% 80.4%
Score-Adjusted Corsi 50.9% 51.5%

HISTORY LESSON

In 103 previous regular season games between the Flames and Penguins, Calgary has a 41-43-19 record. They beat Pittsburgh in a great team effort last month.

KNOW THY ENEMY

Here are some Penguins follows for tonight:

MAGIC NUMBERS

The Flames enter this afternoon with a magic number of 11.5. Any combination of 11.5 Flames wins or Kings losses clinches a playoff berth. The Kings play St. Louis tonight, so potentially the Flames magic number could drop as far as 9.5 by the end of the night.

SUM IT UP

The Flames can tie a 39-year-old franchise record and inch closer to cementing a playoff berth with a victory tonight. Considering how injury-ravaged the Penguins are right now, this is the best chance they’re going to get to keep this roll going.