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Flames vs. Devils Game Thread

Pengrowth Saddledome
Opposition: In Lou We Trust
TV: Sportsnet West
There aren't many cliches that reach their saturation point faster than the ones about "must-wins" and "big games down the stretch". Too often, the points in the latter part of the season are treated as if they count for more, when not only is that not true in the literal sense, but teams that get hot late aren't really more or less successful in the post-season than teams that simply have decent records in March and April.
That said, when your season has been as indifferent as the Flames' through the first 63 games, you can break out the must-win stuff, I suppose, because they might need to win the overwhelming majority of their last 19 games to even have a sniff at mid-April action. Tonight, they host the one other team that decided to make it's major transaction before the Olympics.

Sounds like the lines are getting a bit of a shake-up, with Iginla, Stajan and Bourque slated to start together. I'm at the point where expecting Jarome Iginla to carry the team seems almost unfair. I don't doubt that his line mates haven't been the best, but he's just not that guy anymore. Now, the last time I whaled on him, he scored 2 goals versus the Ducks, so there's certainly a bit of reverse psychology at work here ;-), but his performance against the Wild was so uninspiring that memories of his nice Olympics faded tout de suite. If Bourque alone can't make a go of things, I suspect R O's long-stated wish of Langkow and Iggy may be on the menu in short order.

Daymond Langkow will likely work with Moss and Higgins, the latter of whom must have pissed some higher power off mightily at some point in the recent past. That snapped stick play on Wednesday drove domebeers' BFF Peter Loubardias to a level of spluttering ineloquence that was entirely appropriate in the circumstances, and Higgins' baleful post-game reaction spoke volumes about the effect of confidence on players, even at the NHL level. If there was ever a guy who could use a break, it's him, and he really deserves it on the merits since arriving in Calgary.

Mikael Backlund, in the Sun's best estimation, will get Hagman and Kotalik. If they play against the lower orders of the Devil roster, they might be OK, because Hagman is certainly a better player than that sort of competition as a rule. That will apparently leave Glencross, Nystrom and Mayers as the fourth group. I'll say this again for posterity; if Dawes and Conroy are healthy, Nystrom and Mayers should be in suits. I don't give a rat's ass if Nigel Dawes isn't a prototypical "4th liner". He's still useful, and if he were given soft minutes with Glencross, those two could likely make some hay.

The defence has received the expected shake-up in the wake of Steve Staios' arrival. He'll operate with Jay Bouwmeester, while Sarich and Regehr resume their partnership. Those last two gents don't skate or move the puck well enough to play together, IMO, and leaving White and Giordano as a pair will make for an interesting evening of potential riverboat gambling. I'm not sure those duos survive the night.

Miikka Kiprusoff will start again, undoubtedly hoping that his team decides to a) score a goal or three, and b) not leave various Devil forwards alone in the slot. I haven't the foggiest idea when Vesa Toskala will grace us with his presence in the net, but if the Flames are really worried about fatiguing their bell cow, Sunday afternoon in Minnesota might be a spot for the new number two to receive an airing.

The Devils, like Calgary, chose to make a major line-up modification in early February, adding Ilya Kovalchuk to the line-up. He's certainly a skilled player, but his history is that he's a guy prone to being one-way traffic. Even with the acquisition of the Russian sniper, the main source of concern for any team is Zach Parise. The diminutive one is amongst the game's most lethal offensive players, taking advantage of good starting position to badly out-shoot and out-score his opposition. From the looks of things at Behind the Net, Jacques Lemaire sticks guys like Jay Pandolfo and Rob Niedermayer with a fair bit of defensive zone grunt work in order to occasionally ease the way for his big guns. The Devils certainly miss Paul Martin on the back end, with the defender still on the shelf with a fractured forearm, and the newly acquired Martin Skoula isn't exactly a high end replacement. Martin Brodeur will get the nod in goal, fresh off a 3 goal in 20 shot outing against San Jose. If we're lucky, maybe we'll see that double-pad stack he pulled out against Brian Rafalski once again ;-)

Of course, the Flames would likely shoot the puck off someone's shinpads if that scenario presented itself, so I'm not filled with a great deal of confidence at the moment. The formula for a win is pretty clearly scoring first, because we've all seen the despair that sets in once the other side moves in front, and after the second goal Wednesday, my immediate thought was "insurmountable lead". As I mentioned in the open, the Flames are on the bad side of the odds to make the post-season at the moment, and if they have a hope to get there, the push has to begin tonight.

Game time is 7 MT on Sportsnet West.