March 17, 2012
Playoff performers needed down stretch
By STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency
Their last playoff appearance really wasn’t all that long ago.
But for the Calgary Flames, much has changed since the 2008-09 NHL post-season.
Only seven players currently with the team participated in those maddening six games against the upstart Chicago Blackhawks three springs ago, and both Michael Cammalleri and Olli Jokinen have played elsewhere in between.
While Cammalleri enjoyed the playoffs with the Canadiens in Montreal the last couple of seasons, the other six are looking to get back there again after two years without a taste.
That makes Friday night’s 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers even more painful — like a failed leapfrog attempt over a water fountain in the park as a kid.
Pushing themselves right to the brink of the top eight once again with a five-game winning streak, the Flames fell short in hopping over a few teams by dropping a decision to a squad well below them in the standings.
The sting is undeniable.
And if they’re going to overcome it and get back to their winning ways, they’ll need those remaining — or returned in the case of Cammalleri and Jokinen — Flames to guide them back to the post-season party.
Captain Jarome Iginla and fellow forwards Jokinen, Curtis Glencross and David Moss can’t slip for a second with the race so tight in the Western Conference.
They could use the return of the injured Cammalleri, too, who was deemed by former management as too small to play in the playoffs and let go as a free agent by the Flames after the ’09 ouster.
He went on to prove otherwise with the Habs.
Veteran blueliner Cory Sarich is the last member of the defensive group that played against the ’Hawks, with teammate Mark Giordano missing the post-season following shoulder surgery that winter.
Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, meanwhile, is the constant between the pipes.
He needs eight more starts to hit the 70-game mark for a seventh straight season. With just one more back-to-back set, he may just get the chance to play all 10 remaining games. The Flames might need it to pull out a playoff spot.
Sunday’s date with the Columbus Blue Jackets is one of just three they have against teams below them in the Western Conference standings. And there’s no guarantee they can beat the Blue Jackets, the Minnesota Wild or the Anaheim Ducks just by showing up.
The rest of the all-important final weeks come against teams they are in direct competition with for the last two seedings in the west or clubs they likely can’t catch anyway.
They play twice against the Colorado Avalanche, the Dallas Stars and the Vancouver Canucks, with one more head-to-head against the Los Angeles Kings also on the calendar.
Essentially, there are five teams battling for two spots.
In the Flames’ case, making a serious run at the playoffs in spite of the ridiculous number of injuries they’ve suffered all year has been admirable.
Even if they ultimately fall short, they should be proud of the fact they stayed in contention.
But if they do miss the playoffs because of their performance in the final 10 games, it’s hard to imagine them finding a way to feel pride in any way, shape or form.
On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane