Flames gotta catch 'em all

Flames forward Jarome Iginla (right) celebrates a goal against the Oilers with teammates Olli...

Flames forward Jarome Iginla (right) celebrates a goal against the Oilers with teammates Olli Jokinen (left) and Tom Kostopoulos in Edmonton on March 26, 2011. (DAN RIEDLHUBER/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:40 AM ET

The odds against the Calgary Flames making the playoffs are stacked higher than chips at the final table at the World Series of Poker.

According to the website Sports Club Stats, the Flames have just an 8.8% chance of punching a ticket to the Stanley Cup tournament.

And that increased by nearly 3% after Saturday night’s 5-4 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers.

Still, they have a chance, and until that number is down to zero, they must keep hope.

The Flames need two things to happen in the final two weeks of the NHL season to make the second season.

Part 1 is a winning spree over their final five games.

Winning all five would get them to 97 points.

Part 2 is help, mainly via a couple of their closest competitors falling apart down the stretch.

Both are nearly improbable, but neither is impossible.

The good news for the Flames is the teams they’ll face down the stretch isn’t a Murderers’ Row.

After facing the seventh-place Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night, the Flames hit the road to face a pair of done-and-dusted squads in the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche, before returning home to meet the last-place Edmonton Oilers and finishing the season against the Vancouver Canucks.

Sure, the Canucks are on their way to finishing atop the league standings, but that game likely won’t mean anything to them other than one last chance to ensure Daniel Sedin claims the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top point producer.

Granted, the Canucks could have the motivation of being able to wipe out a rival’s playoff hopes, but that kind of inspiration can only take you so far if your heart’s fully not into it.

Hindering the Flames’ chances further is their number of shootout wins — a league-high nine.

Those don’t count when it comes down to the first tiebreaker, wins. The Los Angeles Kings, who also have nine shootout wins this season, are the only other team in the playoff quagmire who are in danger of losing out to the Flames should it reach that point.

Then again, the Kings won the head-to-head season series, so that also works against Calgary.

Sure, it seems like a miracle is needed to re-ignite the Red Mile, but sometimes miracles come true.

Dallas Stars

The lone team in the mix actually behind the Flames has started to falter, having just one point over the last two games.

The Stars are one part through a difficult five-game road trip, which now means visiting the four other Pacific Division teams, and end with three games in four nights in California.

However, once they’re through that tough stretch, the Stars have the benefit of a home-and-home with a Colorado team which has fallen off the table, as well as games against also-rans from Columbus and Minnesota.

Dallas has three games in hand on Calgary and won’t use them up until the final few days but is staring at a heavy slate — six games in the final nine days, including four of them on the road.

If the Flames win all their games and the Stars begin losing, the tension will grow in Big D.

Why they make it: The Stars survive all those divisional games and close out with enough wins over teams playing out the string.

Why they miss: After struggling on that road trip, the Stars feel the noose and wilt.

Chicago Blackhawks

The defending Stanley Cup champions were forced to say farewell to several key parts of that winning team, but it’s still stunning to imagine a team with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa could miss the playoffs.

It still seems unlikely but not impossible.

The Blackhawks have a very heavy schedule to finish the season and several games against playoff-bound teams staring them in the face.

The Flames could have a very good read on where the Hawks are going over the next two nights when Chicago visits Detroit and Boston.

After that, the Blackhawks have to keep their hot streak alive.

Between how well the Blackhawks have played lately and a schedule which isn’t as hard as it first looks, it’s a good bet they’ll make the post-season. They do face Tampa Bay and Montreal, but both those teams are struggling, and they end with a home-and-home against a Detroit team which is going through a wave of injuries.

Why they make it: Their stable of talent is good enough to get through the stretch-run with enough wins.

Why they miss: Goalie Corey Crawford struggles with the pressure and they have little faith in Marty Turco.

Anaheim Ducks

All signs are pointing to a somewhat surprising playoff berth for an Anaheim Ducks team which appeared in complete disarray to start the season, they somehow survived losing both Ryan Getzlaf and starting goalie Jonas Hiller due to injury for lengthy stretches, and have surrendered more goals than they’ve scored this season.

Right now, the Ducks are as hot as any team and are riding a wave, having won two of three games during a difficult stretch of three games in four nights, capped by a 2-1 comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Can the Ducks continue it?

The lone team in this group which can directly hurt the Flames arrives in town after hosting Colorado Monday.

That Wednesday clash at the Saddledome will be a huge game for both squads.

The Ducks are facing a tough schedule, which not only includes a pair of games against likely Pacific Division-champion San Jose but also a home-and-home series with the Los Angeles to finish the season.

The battle for Southern California has heated up again, and all those games have been come tight and tough tilts.

Why they make it: Their top two lines, especially Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne, continue to score those timely goals.

Why they miss: Goalie Jonas Hiller’s return brings a sigh of relief to the team, which went through all kinds of netminders, and they let off the gas.

Nashville Predators

How Barry Trotz doesn’t receive more support for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year is one of the league’s mysteries. No team does more with less. Every year, the Predators are handcuffed by a low payroll and losing talented players because of salary issues, but every year they in the mix.

This season is no different.

The Preds are riding a six-game winning streak and are on a 8-1-1 tear, which started the game following a loss March 6 in Calgary.

After hosting the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday, the Preds have probably the easiest schedule of the teams the Flames are looking to reel in.

For starters, they have four of their final six tilts at home, where the Predators have a sparkling 22-8-7 mark.

Their final stretch includes games against Colorado, Atlanta, Columbus and St. Louis — teams out of the playoff race. If that’s not enough, Nashville’s games are evenly spread out.

The Flames may be hoping to reel in the Predators, but all those elements in Nashville’s favour could mean home-ice advantage in the first round.

It’s worth noting the Predators have never won a playoff series.

Why they make it: Goalie Pekka Rinne continues an outstanding season for a team which has the ultimate scoring-by-committee approach.

Why they miss: The timely goals stop coming, and those one-goal wins become one-goal loses to create more heartbreak in Music City.

Los Angeles Kings

On the surface, you’d say things are going incredibly well for the Kings. The young team which finally made the playoffs last year has taken a step forward, is on a 7-1-2 run and would seem poised to overtake Phoenix for fourth spot in the Western Conference standings.

That would mean home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Now look at the injury report. In the last week, the Kings have lost their top two scorers, and neither is expected to return during the regular season.

Justin Williams suffered a dislocated shoulder after taking a hard but clean hit from Robyn Regehr, and then top-line centre Anze Kopitar suffered a broken ankle in Saturday’s win over Colorado.

Imagine how much trouble any team would handle losing its top two point producers at such a crucial time.

It’s an easy bet the Kings will overcome that disappointment when they face the 30th-place Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night, but after that, their schedule becomes difficult.

After travelling to Vancouver to face the high-flying Canucks, the Kings return to California for their final five games, and they’re all divisional battles — road games in San Jose and Anaheim and home dates with Dallas, Phoenix and the Ducks, including a home-and-home series against their crosstown rivals.

Why they make it: The injuries to Williams and Kopitar galvanize a team which has plenty of remaining talent.

Why they miss: Without those players, the goals dry up, and goaltender Jonathan Quick is unable to hold the fort.

Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes deserve lots of credit for staying on task through another season filled with questions whether they’re going to be moved.

While the sale of the team continues to drag on, rumours of a return to Winnipeg continue to swirl and injuries keep key players out, the Coyotes keep winning games.

The Coyotes are currently without their top three centres — Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski and Vernon Fiddler — as well as defenceman Ed Jovanovski.

It’s hard to imagine the Coyotes falling completely out of the playoffs, but should the Flames run the table, it’s possible.

Phoenix has a very tough schedule with games against Pacific Division rivals Dallas and Los Angeles serving as book ends with a home date against Colorado.

Then it becomes even harder for the Desert Dogs, who have a 9-11 record in divisional games this season.

The Coyotes finish with a home-and-home series against the San Jose Sharks, who have dominated the Coyotes this season, having won all four meetings so far by a combined score of 17-7.

Why they make it: Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov continues to be the difference maker for a team that has defied the naysayers two straight seasons.

Why they miss: A difficult schedule, combined with rash of injuries up the middle, becomes too much to overcome.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos