As I type this, the Calgary Flames sit three points out of the playoffs with six games remaining. Mathematically, they’ve still got a reasonable chance–although their chances are diminished once you consider that there are currently three teams with 86 points to Calgary’s 83, and only one of them is holding down a playoff spot at the moment. Realistically speaking, it’s only the seventh and eighth spots that are up for grabs–with the third seed, going to the Pacific Division winners, also to be decided. Too bad Calgary isn’t in the Pacific Division…
Last season, the Flames started off slow, made a big run around Christmas time, and cruised through the back half of the schedule, only to end up three points shy of the playoffs. The problem last year was that Calgary had fewer games on its schedule down the stretch than the teams it was competing with, and wasn’t able to pick up enough points to seal the deal. But that’s not the case this year, what with the Flames playing a whopping 17 games in March. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to gain ground on idle opponents, but they just haven’t been doing it.
Mind you, there was an impressive 10-day stretch earlier this month in which the Flames scored three, four and even five goals in wins over Montreal, Winnipeg, Minnesota, San Jose and Phoenix. They weren’t playing all that great defensively, but they were putting plenty of pucks in the net at a crucial stretch of the playoff race. Things were looking pretty good for Calgary on March 16th, when two things happened. First, they lost to the Oilers. Then they sent down Sven Baertschi.
Granted, they were playing Edmonton on the second game of a back-to-back, having beaten Phoenix 4-1 the night before, but even with less than a full day’s rest and their backup goalie in net, a playoff team should still be able to beat the second-worst team in the Western Conference–especially when it’s Edmonton. This loss set off a string of shootout setbacks against last-place Columbus and 13th-place Minnesota, with another shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, currently in 10th, sandwiched in between. And it wasn’t just that Calgary lost to these non-playoff teams, but how they lost: their inability to beat Blue Jackets backup Steve Mason and blowing a 2-0 lead to the Wild are not signs of a playoff contender. The Flames’ current losing streak culminated with a 4-1 setback in Dallas yesterday, where they gave up a pair of early goals, then failed to put the puck past Kari Lehtonen for the better part of two periods before giving up a late cheapie to abandon all hope. And that’s when I knew this team wouldn’t be participating in the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong, Calgary has a key stretch of games this week against playoff contenders Dallas, L.A. and Colorado, with a day’s rest in between each of them–but unless they go three-for-three here, they can kiss the postseason goodbye. While there’s no shame in losing to good teams, those bad losses to Edmonton, Columbus and Minnesota will kill their season. Do I think the Flames can score enough goals against three stingy squads to pick up those six points–without going to a single shootout? Not bloody likely. And besides, we’ve all seen how the Flames fare in shootouts… Not a winning proposition, that’s for sure.
You know who could probably score a few shootout goals for Calgary? Sven Baertschi, the first Flames first-rounder worth getting excited about since Dion Phaneuf. In his first five games with the big club, the kid netted three goals, displaying the kind of agility and finesse that are in short supply on this team of good ol’ prairie boys. We could really use him at a time like this, but since he’s still in juniors, he can only be called up in case of an emergency, and our forwards are all healthy right now. Hell, I’d personally break Matt Stajan’s kneecaps if it meant getting a goalscorer back in the lineup–as long as the team plays for my plane ticket. I’m sure not dropping 500 bucks for this franchise!