Flames punch playoff ticket as Canucks complete faceplant, but 'Dome faithful should expect more in regular season

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

Let's face it, the Calgary Flames backed into the NHL playoffs.

Unable to reach the Stanley Cup party of their own volition, it took the failure of another team -- the Vancouver Canucks -- for the Flames to reach the second season.

Again.

This year's Flames team may have advanced, but no matter what anybody says, it's still been an underachieving squad.

Only a playoff run that goes at least three rounds will disprove those who believe the Flames should have accomplished more in the regular season.

Consider that all the big-name players donning the Flaming C -- Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff -- made it through without debilitating injuries, while the other teams in the division saw important players sent the sidelines for lengthy periods of time, Calgary's regular season was a disappointment.

Had this team played up to snuff -- at least to the level it kept pronouncing it was capable of reaching -- from the beginning of October, it should have claimed the Northwest Division title by a landslide.

Instead, it took a Vancouver loss to what should have been a demoralized Edmonton Oilers team Thursday night to punch Calgary's ticket to the playdowns.

Despite the bigger payroll, coaching change and other moves, the Flames didn't take a step forward compared to the 2006-07 squad.

If that trend continues next year, there is no way the Saddledome will host NHL playoff games in the spring.

You can sense already it'll take a much better performance for the Flames to advance in the 2008-09 season.

Of the teams that advanced to the playoffs this year, likely only Dallas and Colorado are candidates to take a step backward. Meanwhile, a handful of teams that fell short are on the upswing.

Chicago is looking like a real up-and-comer. The Oilers won't go a whole season like they managed the final two months, but are one team to watch if the goaltending holds up, while Phoenix is another.

Hey, even Columbus -- if the Blue Jackets can actually find a legitimate centre to play with Rick Nash -- should be better and the St. Louis Blues aren't that far off from making more noise.

Which means the Flames can't have yet another middling performance like we witnessed this year. If it happens, the time for change -- real change -- is at hand.

FLAMING C-NOTES

Jarome Iginla's Hart Trophy aspirations have pretty much gone down the tube in the last week. Iginla's inability to score in the last four games in his chase to reach 50 -- and notching only two assists in that span -- will do him in, especially with the way Washington's Alex Ovechkin has kept the Capitals alive. Yeah, Ovechkin has lit up the weak Southeast Division goaltending, but even if the Caps don't reach the playoffs, it'll be enough for him to win league MVP honours ... By the way, all those in Iginla's corner this season who want to write off Ovechkin if Washington misses the playoffs should remember how they voted when Iginla was on the other side of the fence in 2001-02 ... Matthew Lombardi has improved to the point he should be in a top-six role next season ... Anyone else baffled how, even this late in the season, there are Flames players saying "We need to show more emotion, more desperation?" At what point in the season do they plan to do it?

RANT TIME

What the Oilers did down the stretch is worth applauding, but enough complaining from their faithful. The cheerleaders disguised as media members up north are lamenting that teams finished ahead of the Oilers only because of "loser points". Last time we looked, Calgary had four more "loser points" than the Oilers -- the same difference between them in the standings. If people want to play that game, it's worth noting the Oilers wouldn't have even been close to a playoff spot if the league made every game worth three points -- three for winning in regulation, two for winning in overtime or shootout and one for losing in extra time -- instead of just those that go beyond 60 minutes. If there was no point for an overtime loss, the Oilers wouldn't have made the playoffs in 2005-06. And we all know where that went. Winning in regulation is worth more than doing it in a skills competition, so if there will be more than two points up for grabs in one game, do the same for every one. Don't kid yourself, the feeling would be the same no matter what team is on the outside looking in.

YOU DON'T SAY ...

"I've been watching the games and torturing myself to death. It's been like getting a root canal. Maybe I'll get a sitter and grab the wife and go to dinner and skip it." -- Carolina Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette on tuning in for games on off-nights.


Videos

Photos