The Flames are not going to make the playoffs. The Flames are not going to make the playoffs. The Calgary Flames are not going to make the playoffs.
That's what I've been saying all season long. Now, with the Flames still in a playoff position, legitimately ahead of two teams they're in direct competition with by their own hands, I'm going to keep saying it.
Chalk it up to superstition. If I've been saying all season long the Flames aren't going to make the playoffs, and they've managed to do this the entire time, I have to keep saying that, right?
Chalk it up to pessimism. If you have low expectations, you'll never be disappointed. Anything more is just gravy. The Flames actually entering the post-season would be an overflowing helping of gravy.
The Flames aren't going to make the playoffs. But in spite of everything: the poor possession, lack of belief, the fact that it's the second year of a goddamn rebuild and this is unprecedented on so many levels and we all need to be proud as hell of this team no matter what happens... with five games to go and two spots very much in play, it'll be disappointing if they don't.
Understandable. Still a hell of a season. Still a lot to look forward to, even if you're a believer in regression. But disappointing, nevertheless.
Three teams for two spots
This is, essentially, what it's boiled down to.
The Vancouver Canucks are probably going to be second. They're only four points ahead of the Flames, with just two more ROWs, and the Flames do have the season series tiebreaker, so it's still possible to catch them; however, it's just not likely. Their remaining games are against the Blackhawks (possible loss), Jets (team floundering to make the playoffs), Kings (superior team currently floundering to make the playoffs), Coyotes (um), and Oilers (hmm). The Flames would need to win two more games than them over this final five game stretch to pass them, and that's probably not going to happen.
The San Jose Sharks aren't officially eliminated, but if they run the table, they'd top out at 95 points. They'd need six wins just to reach that. The Flames need two. They aren't a threat. The Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, have, of course, been officially eliminated. A while ago, actually.
The Central Division has four pretty dominant teams in it. By the new playoff format, three of those are of no concern to the Flames. The fourth - currently the Minnesota Wild - has the same number of points as the Canucks in one fewer game played. They aren't catchable. The Dallas Stars, meanwhile, would have to run the table to reach 94 points, and can do no better than the final wild card spot, with three teams ahead of them. They're done.
That brings us down to two spots, and three teams for them. The Los Angeles Kings are one win away from pulling back into a playoff spot, usurping the Winnipeg Jets' wild card. The Flames have one point on the Jets in the same number of games played, and three points on the Kings in one more game played.
If the Flames win out, they're in.
I'm reluctant to ever count on a team winning out, so they'll probably need some help. But both the third Pacific Division and final wild card spot are there for the taking, and they just need to beat out one of the Kings or Jets.
The Flames' next game is against the St. Louis Blues. The Blues have outscored the Flames 8-1 in their two meetings this season. It is going to be an extremely difficult game, although the Blues are hurting: their top two scorers, Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen, are out.
Anything is possible. This five game stretch - playing against the Stars twice, and the Wild, Predators, and Blues once - is the Flames' remaining really, really tough one. And they've managed to collect five of a possible eight points so far.
The Blues are going to be a hell of a tough finish, but if the Flames do manage to pull this out and avoid the season sweep, well... your hope just ticks up that much higher, doesn't it? Even a single point from an overtime or shootout loss would be a pretty big victory.
The Oilers, the Coyotes
The Flames are on the verge of sweeping both teams. Both teams are at the very bottom of the standings, and playing solely for pride at this point. It's never the players who are tanking: they have jobs and would like to keep those jobs, so they need to perform well and try to win.
These are two "gimme" games, and I'm sure both teams are currently in the mindset where playing spoiler is a blast.
But there's an added element to all this. How much of a kick do you think Edmonton would get out of putting a massive dent in Calgary's playoff hopes?
The Flames have outscored the Coyotes 17-6 this season. That points to a pretty clear pattern. They've beaten them by three goals three times, and two goals once. Victories have been pretty clear.
The Flames have outscored the Oilers 17-8. Not as impressive as against the Coyotes, but still pretty dominant. Two victories by three goals, one victory by two goals, and... one in overtime. The Battle of Alberta, combined with taking a team to overtime, gives additional pause.
Obviously, at this stage, you can't take any team for granted. But these should be four guaranteed points. And with the last two games of the season...
Three points back. One game in hand. And, in all honesty, the better team.
Of their six remaining games, two are against Edmonton, and one against Colorado. That should be six guaranteed points, which would tie them with the Flames should the Flames reach their four guaranteed, although the Flames would still have the tiebreaker.
They have a game remaining against the Canucks who are, in all likelihood, uncatchable. The Kings dominated the Canucks for their first three meetings of the season, but flipped the script a week and a half ago, emerging with a 4-1 win. They also have a game against the San Jose Sharks. That season series is tied at two all, with the Sharks outscoring the Kings 10-7. And like Edmonton with us, how badly do you think the Sharks want to eliminate the Kings?
Then again, the Sharks probably really wanted to eliminate the Kings last year, and, well. And the Sharks are a worse team this year.
Let's assume worst case scenario, and the Kings run the table, putting them at 98 points with a game remaining. The Flames would need three wins and an overtime loss, at minimum, to combat that.
And that's leaving out the game they play against each other. The Flames aren't guaranteed to make it if they beat the Kings, but any chance to prevent them from picking up two points is huge, and allows the Flames a little more breathing room. And despite the three wins they have against them this season, the Flames have been largely dominated by the Kings every game. Alongside the Blues, this is going to be one of the toughest remaining games.
Cheer against them, but be fully ready to be passed by them; especially if the Kings win the final head-to-head matchup.
There's one more game left on the table that should be entirely winnable, though...
The wild card is still a viable option.
The Jets have lost their last two games in regulation, with the game winners coming against them with 31 seconds and a little under four minutes to go; not to mention the fact that if there's any common sense out there, Dustin Byfuglien, their highest scoring defenceman, is going to get suspended.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Phone hearing confirmed for Byfuglien - which means five games or fewer. Could've snapped his neck but nbd. <a href="https://t.co/bU6Plobszi">https://t.co/bU6Plobszi</a></p>— NY Rangers Zone (@NYRangersZone) <a href="https://twitter.com/NYRangersZone/status/583302853214773249">April 1, 2015</a></blockquote>
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There are five games left in the Jets' season, so it's possible he's gone for the remainder of it, including the season finale against the Flames. But because this is the NHL, who tend to show no regard for player safety and common sense, we can't count on that. (Seriously: a maximum of five games for a play that has literally nothing to do with hockey and could have had serious real life repercussions on JT Miller's life? If the league was serious Byfuglien would be benched until halfway through next season at minimum. And I don't say that as a fan of a team fighting against his team for a playoff spot. I say that as a fan of people who don't try to murder other people on the ice. Or in general, really.)
The Jets face the Canucks (out of reach), the Wild (out of reach), the Blues (out of reach), the Avalanche (bad), and the Flames (hmm). The Flames have cleanly beaten the Jets in their two meetings thus far this season, by three goals both times. The Jets are, however, the superior possession team - one of the better ones in the entire league, actually - so they can't really be counted out.
The Canucks have taken both games against the Jets this season, although one game went to overtime. They've split the season two-all with the Wild, but three games have gone to overtime, so it may very well be anyone's game. They play the Blues on the second of a back-to-back, and the Blues have won three of four against the Jets this season, with two games going to a shootout (that's the only one the Jets won). The Avs are, well, not good, and the Jets should probably take that game with ease.
Let's go with a bad for Calgary, but entirely realistic scenario: the Jets go 2-1-1, beating the Wild and Avs, losing to the Canucks in overtime, and losing to the Blues in regulation. That's five points, putting them at 95, and tying them with the Flames if the Flames manage to just beat the Coyotes and Oilers, and nobody else.
That would be a hell of a finish to the season, wouldn't it? Win and you're in. The end.
Do the Flames make it?
So... how massive would even a single point against the Blues be?
A single point against the Blues could very well do it.
The Flames still need help. They control their own fate, in that if they win out, they're guaranteed a spot. But it's dangerous to count on a team to win out, especially when their final five games are against two teams they're directly competing against, including one vastly superior to them; one that's dominated them all season; and two teams that are desperate to save face, including one of the league's best rivalries that's probably especially tired of the constant humiliation (and is somehow on a three-game win streak).
But man. It's close.
Just get at least a point against the Blues and go from there.