CALGARY — And so, in the end, the Calgary Flames’ season may all just come down to a missed penalty shot.
Not that Curtis Glencross should be vilified for being stopped on a one-on-one showdown weighed heavily in favour of all netminders, but his failed attempt in Monday’s loss to Detroit could ultimately cost the club a playoff spot.
It may also be a perfect example of the opportunities the Flames have squandered all season long, landing them in this sordid state.
Up 1-0 late in the second against the team the Flames are chasing for the final playoff spot in the west, Glencross was hijacked while on a shorthanded breakaway.
On the resulting penalty shot he opted to abandon his trademark snapshot high to the glove side for a lower, stick-side attempt Jimmy Howard deftly turned aside to keep the game in reach.
Forty seconds later Pavel Datsyuk tied the game, setting up an intense final period in which Tomas Holmstrom’s late deflection represented a dagger to the heart the Flames may not be able to recover from.
Instead of taking advantage of home ice by moving ahead of the very team they’re chasing, the Flames are now three points back with 13 games to go.
And while that gap is by no means insurmountable, its evident momentum and the schedule are now both conspiring to work very much against Calgary down the stretch.
Not only are nine of their final games against playoff clubs ahead of them in the standings, four are early afternoon road affairs, which the Flames have long struggled with.
Perhaps more importantly, none are against the two teams they’re chasing — Detroit and Nashville — meaning they’re also at the mercy of two teams that control their own fate.
The Predators have seven of their remaining games against also-ran clubs including the Blues three times, the Blue Jackets and the Wild.
The Wings also have seven patsies, including two formalities against both the Oilers and the Blue Jackets and singles against St. Louis and Minnesota. Hard to believe they can be caught.
Fact is, it shouldn’t have come to this.
With Miikka Kiprusoff bouncing back this season to be one of the league’s stingiest netminders once again, the Flames had ample opportunity to parley a tighter defensive game into a serious run for the division title.
However, a below average powerplay and inconsistency from the forwards led to a downward spiral in January few could have predicted.
Not only does it have the club on the outside looking in at the playoffs, it forced general manager Darryl Sutter to go into full-fledged damage control mode, leaving the club with a hodge-podge of personnel largely cast off by lesser clubs.
Hard to build momentum when guys are just starting to build new databases of teammate names and phone numbers.
At the very least, coach Brent Sutter can take solace in the team’s improved work ethic of late, which is one of the only reasons anyone could still believe the Flames are capable of late greatness. (Goaltending being the other).
However, the fact is the Flames have been outplayed in their last three games, which includes a gritty but fortuitous win over Ottawa, a shellacking in Vancouver and a heartbreaker against Detroit.
As hard as it is to believe the Flames will be able to climb out of the hole they’ve created for themselves, it’s even harder to fathom a team entering the season as apparent Stanley Cup contenders could miss the spring fling altogether.
Yet, with all that’s gone wrong, the Flames woke up Tuesday sickened by the realization a paltry penalty shot could very well be their ultimate undoing.
As crushing as it is silly, it’s a microcosm for the entire season of squander.