And just like that, the positive vibes have ebbed a bit. Calgary plays well but loses to their white whale in Chicago. Colorado defeats San Jose in overtime. The final week is upon us, and the Flames find themselves in the same place they've been for most of the last month - on the outside looking in, and in desperate straits. The foundation of the final playoff run is shaken much like my house was after the 7.2 earthquake hit across the border in Mexico a few hours ago.
But they're both still standing, and if nothing else, the effort against the Blackhawks gives enough optimism to Flames fans to sustain us through these last few days. Yes, the score was 4-1, but if this NHL season has shown us anything this year, it's that efforts and results have had an uneasy relationship. In the last week, Calgary has taken advantage of the breaks and great goaltending to get back in the race, and today that luck (and goaltending) went the other way.
Quick summary: Flames pressure, lots of puck at net and puck missing sticks, nothing getting behind Antti Niemi. Then a small defensive breakdown and it's 1-0 Chicago. Flames follow up with more pressure but can't seem to get their stick on a puck bouncing around the empty net, or get a bounce past Niemi. Late in the period, the flow changed and a Blackhawk powerplay is followed by a Calgary icing, a faceoff loss, a big rebound and a back-breaking goal by Troy Brouwer
After that, it didn't much matter. Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien both showed they know where to beat Miikka Kiprusoff, with great shots up high, and Ian White scored on a great individual effort to account for the other goals. Beyond that, Calgary was the better team for much of the night (although Chicago showed they also know how to play the shell, almost to their detriment). Rene Bourque had another strong night moving the puck forward (the largest number of defensive faceoffs combined with a solid Corsi) and nearly all the forwards looked pretty good. There was some loose play at the defensive end which allowed a couple second chance goals and shots from far too deep into the slot, but really, that's just being picky. Three more games like this, and the Flames will have their 95 points. Then, it's just up to Colorado.
Now, there's a new puppy in the house, and I'm off to do some cleanup!