What needs to happen for Calgary to make the playoffs?

Photo credit:Bob Frid/USA Today Sports
Pat Steinberg
3 years ago
The Flames have slim postseason odds with 20 games remaining. At 16-17-3, Calgary is technically two points back of Montreal for the fourth and final North Division playoff spot. A slightly closer look will reveal how difficult the team’s situation really is. We know this: the Flames need to go on a run to make things interesting. Breaking it down further, here’s what absolutely needs to happen for Calgary to sneak into the playoffs.
Prior to last Wednesday’s loss in Ottawa, the Flames had publicly targeted 16-7 in their final 23 games. With a win and two losses since, that target is down to 15-5, or a 0.750 points percentage down the stretch. Currently, The Athletic’s model has Calgary at a 12% chance to make the playoffs, while Sports Club Stats has them at 4.8%. Both numbers took about a two percent jump after Saturday’s 4-2 win over Winnipeg.

Take care of Montreal

This is the biggest non-negotiable if the Flames have any chance of pulling off the improbable. Technically, Calgary sits two points back of the Habs for the final North Division playoff spot and could move into a tie with a Monday night win over the Jets. Regardless of Monday’s result, though, Montreal will wake up Tuesday with six games in hand. That’s the bad news. The good news is below.
April 14at Montreal
April 16at Montreal
April 23vs. Montreal
April 24vs. Montreal
April 26vs. Montreal
Calgary has five head-to-head matchups with the Canadiens in the span of 12 days next month. For the glass half-full crowd, the Flames are 3-1-0 in four meetings with Montreal this season, including regulation wins in the last three. If Calgary can take care of business in those five games to the tune of, say, four regulation wins…that’s a significant swing.
Complicating matters further is Montreal’s current situation. NHL COVID protocols forced the postponement of four Canadiens games last week, opening up plenty of uncertainty. How condensed will Montreal’s schedule be down the stretch? How will they deal with an unscheduled break in the second half of the season? And how will they handle the potential pressure of having to win games in hand on the Flames and Canucks?
In fairness, I’ve just painted a somewhat rosy picture. I’ll now smack you in the face with the reality of Calgary’s situation. If the Canadiens were to go 12-12-1 in their final 25, they’d finish with 62 points. That would force the Flames to pick up at least 27 points in their final 20, or a record of around 13-6-1. Again, none of this is impossible, but it illustrates the uphill climb ahead.

The rest of the schedule…

On the bright side, almost half of Calgary’s remaining schedule is against the two teams they’ve had the most success against: Montreal (3-1-0) and Vancouver (4-2-0). The bad news: the Flames have just nine wins combined against the four teams they’ll play for the 11 other games on the schedule.
OpponentRemainingSeason series
Edmonton4 (1 home, 3 road)2-4-0
Vancouver4 (2 home, 2 road)4-2-0
Toronto3 (2 home, 1 road)2-3-1
Winnipeg2 (2 home, 0 road)3-3-1
Ottawa2 (2 home, 0 road)2-4-1
Calgary has already lost five of seven against Ottawa, so that trend needs to end with four points in the final two meetings. The Canucks are in just as desperate a situation as the Flames, so those four remaining games won’t be easy. That said, if Calgary can’t get nine or ten of the 12 possible remaining points against the only two teams below them in the standings, they don’t belong in the playoffs anyway.
The Flames have played solid hockey this season against Toronto and Winnipeg, so perhaps a 3-2-0 record is doable in the final five games there. And, while the Oilers have ran the show for much of this year’s Battle of Alberta, it’s not unreasonable to think Calgary could split the four remaining meetings.
So…with what we’ve laid out, there’s four wins vs. Montreal, two vs. Ottawa, three vs. Vancouver, and five combined vs. Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton. Add them up and you get 14; not a playoff guarantee, but it would at least make things very interesting.

Getting down to it

I need to underline how purposely, perhaps unrealistically, optimistic most of this article has been. I’m not putting money down on the Flames making the playoffs this year, and not just because the math is against them. All I’ve seen through 36 games is an average hockey team with the ability to play well here and there, whether under Geoff Ward or new head coach Darryl Sutter.
For a team so committed to being aggressively .500 (trademark: Ryan Pike) this season, seeing them get on the type of sustained run they’ll need seems like a pipe dream. I don’t expect it to happen, but I’ll also be the first to scream how wrong I was if it materializes. I know I’m not alone in my skepticism.
Sean Monahan has three even strength goals all season. Johnny Gaudreau has just one in his last 23 games. The pairing of Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson has bled scoring chances all season (43.0 HDCF% per Natural Stat Trick). Jacob Markstrom has an 0.881 save percentage in his last 13 starts; he’s at 0.896 in ten starts since returning from an upper body injury.
All this is to say is one thing: Calgary’s top players absolutely have to start consistently driving the bus. Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin can’t do it on their own. Neither can Derek Ryan and Josh Leivo, who have both played well recently. The door isn’t completely closed for the Flames as we’ve illustrated above. But, this team will have to work extremely hard to open it wide enough for a third straight trip to the post-season.

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