This season, much like last season has the Flames neck in neck in the playoff hunt.
Last season came down to a 3 game California road trip from March 20th to March 23rd. In those three games the season was decided. The Flames only got two points out of a possible six and the corner was turned. If the Flames had won those games they would have finished with 98 points and made the playoffs.
This season is not quite the same as last season and the difference is in the schedule.
The Flames have the best schedule and their closest competitors have tougher ones ahead of them. The Flames enemy has revealed themselves at this point and that team is without a doubt the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Flames have a better chance this year of making the playoffs than last year.
This back of a napkin illustration has the remaining games for teams in the Western Playoff Race.
Highlighted in Green is teams that should bank wins for the team in question. These teams are either out of the playoffs or simply weaker, shouldn't be too controversial.
Then in Red teams that should beat the teams pushing for the playoffs. No one will be surprised if it happens.
All internal playoff race combinations. The "4 point games" are left open as 50/50 games and both teams are given a point as a sort of wash.
The Sharks I pick to be in it and it is a team you can easily see going on a tear.
- The Sharks are the team that plays other teams in the Western playoff race the most. Hence they will influence the outcome the most. Their last ten games they have gone a disappointing 2-6-2 but they do hold two games in hand. If they wake up, as many expect, they can knock the Kings right out of it with 3 games remaining against them.
I pick the Kings to fall out of it.
- The Kings have a tough road ahead of them. They play strong teams in upcoming games, the most actually at 6. Their fate will really be decided in the remaining games against the Sharks. They need to steal at least single points against those strong 6 teams and win two out of three against the Sharks. No easy task.
The Stars should make it.
- The Stars should make it. They have already had their run and have a bit of a cushion under them at the moment. They also play 5 tough teams but can take the losses and still have good position to make the playoffs. Their season will be decided in how they take on the Flames and Sharks.
The Avs will be talking draft picks within two weeks.
- The Avs are almost done. They are going to need some serious magic to crawl over the Kings, Coyotes and Flames. The Kings they may be able to do but both the Coyotes and Flames? Watch the next three games for them. A single loss or single loser point in these three upcoming games against the Oilers, Ducks or Sabres and that should finish the season for them. Competition isn't going to get easier for them.
That leaves the two teams that are in my view a true coin toss and I give the Flames the edge.
- The Coyotes were on a great run but have deflated recently losing two games they really should have won against the Blue Jackets plus a loss to the Flames that hit them extra hard as well. The Sharks will control their destiny, with three remaining games against them starting tonight. The first flare of hope for the Flames tonight will be a Sharks win over the Coyotes. It will give the Flames an extra game and eradicate in principle the lead the Yotes hold at the moment
- Which leaves us with our Flames. The Flames have done well against the Avalanche this year, winning all games and have two games remaining against them. If you bank those as wins the Flames shoot over the Coyotes on the back of the napkin method, no problem. The key time period for the Flames is really going to be March 24th to March 28th, assuming they go on the tiny run they should, given the level of their upcoming competition. They play the Stars twice and the Kings once. This is likely the turning point of their season. If they take at least 3 points out of these three games that should take them over the top or at least over the Coyotes into the final spot.
Honestly I like the Flames odds going into the home stretch here and this assumes two end of the season losses to the Canucks. The key to this Back of the Napkin approach is how one anticipates other teams to fair and I like the role the Sharks will play in games against both the Coyotes and Kings.
Note: I originally did the sheet with the Mar 13th Sharks / Flames game as a Green win for the Sharks and Red loss for the Flames. The numbers add up as such and I don't want to redo the sheet, so keep that in mind, it is all a estimate anyway.