March 16, 2010
Flames loss huge in fight for playoffs
By STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency
Insulted as the Calgary Flames might be at the thought of it, many people are now counting them out.
Out of the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.
Out of luck when it comes to giving their goaltender the kind of support he needs to win games. For the Flames to make the playoffs, Monday night's game against the Detroit Red Wings was key.
They beat the Wings in Detroit last week to give everyone hope, but fell 2-1 at the Saddledome Monday in what turned out to be a massive swing the other way.
Three points now separate the eighth-place Wings from the Flames, who followed up four straight wins with back-to-back losses to the Vancouver Canucks and Red Wings.
And with 13 games remaining on the regular-season schedule, it seems their best hope is Miikka Kiprusoff shutting out the opposition the rest of the way.
The Finnish netminder has been incredible, stopping every shot he has a chance to see and almost as many he has no business preventing.
Locked into playoff mode weeks early, Kiprusoff has given them a chance to win.
Unfortunately, no one else is stepping up to the same degree. So, their playoff hopes are all but dead.
Why? The Red Wings play the Edmonton Oilers twice more down the stretch. They have the privilege of playing the Columbus Blue Jackets three more times.
Only games against the Pittsburgh Penguins (in Detroit) and the fact they go head-to-head with the Nashville Predators twice over the next month present any obvious problems.
Aside from those meetings with the Wings, the Predators also seem to have a favourable schedule in their sights.
The Flames? They've got the Colorado Avalanche next, followed by the San Jose Sharks.
In the final days they've got dates with the Avs, the Chicago Blackhawks, a second stab at the Sharks, and the Vancouver Canucks on the road as a finale.
And the way the offence is playing after breaking out for 14 goals over a three-game stretch earlier this month, that really might be the end of the road. Or the beginning, for Flames who love golf season.
Kiprusoff kept the Flames in the game in Vancouver with just 20 minutes of work, allowing an unlikely comeback to be considered possible with just three goals to make up instead of what would surely have been five or six. The offence let him down. They got one back.
Robbing the likes of Wings Drew Miller, Jason Williams and Niklas Kronwall Monday, Kiprusoff again gave them hope, only to be denied that one more goal of support that might have made the difference. Flames players know they're letting Kiprusoff down.
"Yeah. We haven't scored that many goals," said fellow Finn Niklas Hagman. "If our average would be even just one more, we would have won a lot of games.
"It's tough when our goalie plays so well and we lose. We need to create some offence to help ... But it is a good thing he's playing really well."
One man isn't enough. Defence isn't enough.
It might be time to bring back the balloons former head coach Mike Keenan had the Flames shoot at last season. Nothing else is working. Maybe giving them floating targets will.
But the desperate idea of bringing back a Keenan coaching method might just be the biggest sign all is already lost for the Flames.