The celebration is almost on in the Stampede City.
With only two games left in their season a playoff berth looks well within the grasp of the Flames, whose fate even last seek wasn’t so certain. They haven’t clinched yet, but the two point advantage they boast over the Los Angeles Kings is much greater than it looks.
That the two teams will face each other April 9 in their respective 81st games only adds to the drama that is the final week of the regular season.
A regulation win would give Calgary 97 points and an insurmountable lead in the standings, thus eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champs from playoff contention. A regulation loss, however, makes things much more interesting.
Should the Flames be unable to take the game at least beyond regulation against the Kings, that would move the two into a tie heading into the final game. If that is, indeed, the case, the advantage – on paper, at least – would have to be in the Kings’ favour.
The Flames play the Winnipeg Jets, a bubble team clinging to playoff hopes themselves, who should be desperate if their fate has yet to be resolved by Saturday. Meanwhile, Los Angeles faces off against the San Jose Sharks in its final game, which, despite the inherent rivalry, does not bode well for the Sharks.
But of course, as mentioned before getting to that point there’s the matter of taking on the Kings. Heading into the pivotal matchup the Flames appear to be in a great position to lock up at least third in the Pacific Division. Winners of four of their last five games – scoring at least four goals in three of those wins – the offence has been firing on all cylinders lately.
If there is any issue to be found it’s the team’s crease situation. With Karri Ramo going down to injury, Jonas Hiller has been thrust into the number-one role indefinitely. The outlook on Ramo’s situation doesn’t look overly positive either, given the recall of Brad Thiessen from the American Hockey League (and the lack of updates on his injury).
Having Hiller as the only viable choice in net may seem like a minor issue on the surface, but for the fact Bob Hartley has rotated his goalies on a consistent basis throughout the season. It isn’t so much that it throws a wrench in his routine rotating, but that Hiller (not unlike Ramo) has had multiple stretches this season in which he went cold.
To not have that second option in goal should things go sour for Hiller could be a major hindrance to the team’s success. Then again, Hiller has proven he can do well with an increased workload in the past, so perhaps he can take this opportunity to cement himself as the bona fide number-one in Calgary.
Whether or not he can take the reins remains an afterthought at this point. Right now, the Flames have a shot at securing a playoff spot – one not many people can say they thought Calgary would own this season. All Hiller has to do is win one more game, and then the questions can begin.