March 4, 2012
Four things for Flames to make playoffs
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - The Dallas Stars, who currently hold down the No.-8 spot in the Western Conference, are on pace for an 92-point season.
The San Jose Sharks sat in seventh and on the way to a 95-point campaign prior to Saturday night's clash with the St. Louis Blues. The Phoenix Coyotes were slated to hit 96 points before facing the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday.
The Chicago Blackhawks are also en route to a 96-point year.
All of those teams can have drastic changes to their fortunes over the next while, but it gives an idea what the Calgary Flames must accomplish over the final five weeks of the regular season to be part of the Stanley Cup chase.
Ultimately, the Flames need a whole lot of points to keep their post-season hopes alive -- and a few other helping hands along the way.
But it's not impossible for the Flames to defy the odds -- before Saturday's action, they had a 20.7% chance of making the playoff chase according to the website sportclubstats.com.
Here are four of the key elements needed to fall together for it to happen:
1. Go on a tear
With 69 points -- all the lost points during the recent homestand and failing to the Anaheim Ducks late in regulation time the other night loom large right now -- the Flames essentially must drum up 27 more to hit that magical 96-point mark.
Scary to think it requires a 13-3-1 run.
However, that would like mean finishing as high as sixth, assuming none of those teams ahead of them don't go on a winning spree.
With the 93-point goal, the Flames are looking at an 11-5-2 mark.
Yes, that sounds difficult, but consider the club's schedule from this point onward, and the Flames actually are capable of pulling it off.
(It's not probable, but still possible.)
After facing Dallas Sunday, the first of three remaining clashes with the Stars, the Flames play host to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Montreal Canadiens and road-kill Winnipeg Jets.
Their schedule also includes two more games against Minnesota, dates with Edmonton and Columbus, and two more games against the Colorado Avalanche, a team the Flames have beaten nine straight times.
The toughest part of the schedule is the end, with two games against Vancouver and the season finale versus the Anaheim Ducks. If they're still alive, the Flames have to hope the Canucks are in cruise control and the Ducks are dead in the water.
2. Competition lets off gas
The Dallas Stars have three games remaining with each the Flames, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. The Flames need their division rivals to dominate that set of games and could use the Sharks finding their form. Dallas also concludes with games against Nashville and St. Louis, two tough teams which could be battling for a high playoff seed at that point.
Like the Flames, the Sharks have 17 games on the docket in March, and it's not an easy one. San Jose not only has three clashes left with Dallas, but also three against the Los Angeles Kings. Moreover, they have a pair of tilts with Phoenix, along with games against tough teams from St. Louis, Nashville, Detroit and Boston. Their saving grace is a lot of home dates.
Chicago also has a tough schedule. Not only do the Blackhawks face Detroit twice down the stretch, but they also meet St. Louis three times and Nashville twice, along with the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils and the Vancouver Canucks. The good news is a home game against floundering Washington and a home-and-home versus Minnesota.
The Phoenix Coyotes have a road-heavy sked -- nine of the final 16 are away from the desert -- and it's not easy. They do finish with games against Minnesota and Columbus on both sides of a clash in St. Louis, but March is no cakewalk. They meet the Sharks three times, St. Louis twice and Nashville. Oh yeah, they're on the road now for a game in Pittsburgh Monday.
Compared to the Flames, the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche have tough slates, too.
3. Key cogs must pick it up
Obviously, Miikkka Kiprusoff must continue to be one of the league's top goalies and captain Jarome Iginla would help his team's chances by finishing as hot as he did last season, with 18 goals in the final 18 outings.
However, it's not fair to expect those two to carry their team by themselves.
The Flames need a handful of others to elevate their game at crunch time, especially a couple who haven't shown that ability often enough in the past in Jay Bouwmeester and Olli Jokinen.
Bouwmeester has not reached the NHL playoffs, and Jokinen has been there just once, so this is their chance to make a statement.
They're not alone, though. Michael Cammalleri doesn't have a history of lighting it up in the final six weeks of the regular season.
Everybody wearing the jersey must elevate their game this time of year, but the cliche of best players being the best players holds true in this situation.
4. Someone needs to pluck Ducks
Say you think the Flames can make the playoffs and watch the reaction. Most will say it won't happen or just laugh at you.
Say you think the Ducks will reach the post-season and see how many people agree, even though the Ducks are below the Flames in the standings and have one fewer game remaining.
The Ducks deserve some of that faith, having done what seemed impossible last season and for going from 20 points out of a playoff spot in early January to where they are today.
Their schedule features three games versus the Oilers, but that's about the only easy part to it. Anaheim plays nine of its final 17 games on the road, meets St. Louis twice and faces Detroit, Nashville, Boston and Vancouver once. As for divisional play, the Ducks have a couple of dates with San Jose along with a game against each of Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix.
The Flames meet the Ducks to end the season, which could mean all kinds of playoff implications if the right pieces fall together.