Welcome to the final month of the NHL's regular season, and the last month in which we'll see the Flames - and, in all honesty, probably the Leafs - play until next season. While the Flames only have pride and youth to play for now, the Leafs are still in the playoff race, albeit just barely, but hey... they have something to play for.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Lupul: "We pretty much had to have this game. We knew that going in."</p>— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) <a href="https://twitter.com/markhmasters/statuses/450094567548022784">March 30, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Oh... well that doesn't sound too optimistic.
That's Joffrey Lupul after the Leafs' most recent game, a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, whom they are in direct competition with for a playoff spot.
Lupul also feels the Leafs need to win from here on out. While a loss to the Flames wouldn't officially eliminate Toronto from the post-season, it would bring them one step closer to the comfort of sweet, sweet death.
So, you know... important game.
Calgary Flames (31-37-7, 6th in the Pacific Division)
The Flames are coming off a 6-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The team played well initially, generating 40 shots on net, but fell apart in the third as Ottawa worked to bring themselves two points back of the Leafs with a game in hand (spoiler alert: they're probably not making the playoffs either). Hometown (ish) boys, Paul Byron and Sean Monahan, were both able to score goals in the loss, likely to their families' delights; especially as Monahan scored his 20th of the year, the first Flames rookie to do that since Dion Phaneuf. (Hey, I know that guy!)
Former Leaf Joe Colborne, who has a paltry $600,000 cap hit, scored his 10th goal of the season two games ago. David Clarkson, a major part of the reason as to why the Leafs have found themselves in cap hell, has 10 points all year. Yes, it was absolutely necessary to bring this up.
The Flames have actually been playing rather well as of late. They spent most of March keeping their fenwick at 50% or above in close games, and actually have a couple of positive possession players: beautiful top defensive pairing TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, guy-who-didn't-get-traded Mike Cammalleri, the most beautiful Swede there ever was Mikael Backlund, TJ Galiardi who keeps getting scratched for no apparent reason, and Paul Byron is just on the cusp of getting his corsi at 50%.
New guy Bryce Van Brabant will play his first NHL game tonight. It's expected he'll play on a line with Kevin Westgarth and Lance Bouma, while Brian McGrattan gets bumped up to play with Jiri Hudler and Matt Stajan. (Wait, what?) (No, seriously, what?) (There is no possible way I am reading this correctly??) (Brian McGrattan has as many goals as David Clarkson.)
Toronto Maple Leafs (36-32-8, 5th in the Atlantic Division)
The Leafs are sad right now, and they have every right to be. They've lost their last eight games, their last victory coming against the Los Angeles Kings back on March 13, in the days when the Leafs were in a playoff spot. What a time to be alive.
Their most recent loss, as Lupul noted above, might have been a backbreaker. Falling 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings, the Leafs were unable to stop Darren Helm from getting a hat trick and bringing the Wings just one step closer to qualifying for the playoffs yet again.
So... maybe the Leafs come out hard because they know they need to win. Or maybe they don't show up because they feel defeated. I dunno. Both are possible I guess.
Goaltending has been the story for the Leafs all season, as they've become overly reliant on it. Jonathan Bernier - who is probably getting the start tonight, because he's Jonathan Bernier, and starting anyone other than Jonathan Bernier is apparently inconceivable for the Leafs. ... ... ... Jonathan Bernier - has had an outstanding year, maintaining a .922 save percentage, although even that isn't enough to drag his team to the playoffs. However, he only managed a .857 save percentage in his last game, stopping 24 of 28 shots.
The Leafs are a consistently outshot team. (Oh my god did that Twitter guy give up? Is he or she okay?) They actually gave up 49 shots on goal - the ones that made it to the net, not the total attempts that were made, that was actually 80 - to the Blues a little earlier in their losing streak.
Despite having quite a few good players - Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri - and promising young prospects, such as Morgan Rielly, things just aren't going their way right now. And probably won't for the rest of the season. And as long as Randy Carlyle is employed by MLSE, maybe.
Be sure to go to Pension Plan Puppets for their pregame coverage, and to learn more about the Leafs, in case as a (probable) Canadian citizen you don't know everything already. And come back for the gamethread and recap we'll have here at M&G later tonight!