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The NHL playoff race: Two points, and the Calgary Flames are in

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The playoffs are so close you can taste it. Hopefully the Flames can, too.

Derek Leung/Getty Images

At minimum, the Calgary Flames will be alive until the last day of the regular season.

At maximum, the Calgary Flames will be alive until game seven of the Stanley Cup Final.

... Okay the maximum probably isn't going to happen.

The minimum is a guarantee, though.

The minimum is two points.

One regulation victory gets the 2014-15 Flames into the 2014-15 NHL playoffs. Two overtime losses do the exact same thing. The Flames could even potentially lose out and still get in, although they'd need some help for that option. Also, that option doesn't sound as fun as the other ones. Let's just get the two points and go with that.

This is what this ridiculous season, filled with high shooting percentages and low puck possession and an eight-game losing streak has boiled down to. If it had been a seven-game losing streak, they'd have already clinched. If they'd beaten the Ottawa Senators in that shootout and if Kris Russell hadn't made that poor pass in his own end that let the Columbus Blue Jackets tie it, they'd have already clinched. You can point to virtually every game in the season and say, "If only they'd done this, they'd have already clinched."

This is not a time for regrets or what-ifs, though, because in the now, the Flames' heartbeat is very much alive. It's not even erratic like yours. It's calm, cool, and collected, because even though two very tough games are left, the Flames control their own fate.

Sure, it was fun when they could have been Pacific Division leaders in game 20, but controlling their own playoff fate after 80? That's something else entirely.

Scenario 1: The Flames beat the Los Angeles Kings

They do it in regulation, and the Flames have 97 points with one game remaining, while the Kings have 93 points with one game remaining.

The Kings then have a maximum potential of 95 points, and the Winnipeg Jets, secondary wild card spot holders, already have  96.

The Flames clinch with a regulation win.

But the Kings are a resilient, scary bunch, so it takes until overtime or the shootout for the Flames to beat them. The dreaded three-point game, scourge of every playoff-hopeful fan (unless it's your team getting that loser point, then it's okay because by god, does it help). The Flames have 97 points with one game remaining, while the Kings have 94 points with one game remaining.

Okay, cool, so the Kings can tie the Jets if the Jets lose out. They can't touch the Flames.

Two points against the Kings puts the Flames in the playoffs, no matter what.

Scenario 2: The Flames lose to the Kings in overtime or the shootout

Loser points are stupid, but they're at least a little less stupid when your team is picking them up, because at least it's something.

It doesn't matter if it's overtime or shootout, because the Flames have firm control over the first tiebreaker against the Kings. That tiebreaker is called ROWs - Regulation or Overtime Wins - and the Flames have 40 of them, while the Kings have 37, and can only collect a maximum of 39 this season.

So the Flames fall in overtime. They head into their season finale with 96 points, while the Kings have 95 points with one game remaining.

The Flames aren't safe yet, because they could lose their final game, and the Kings could win theirs, and then the Kings would have 97 points and jump past the Flames.

This is where the season finale against Winnipeg comes into play. It doesn't matter to the Flames at all whether or not Winnipeg beats the Colorado Avalanche - their own penultimate game - and go from 96 points to 98 or not (and considering how well they've performed against tough opponents recently, including actually taking two points in what should have been a schedule loss to the St. Louis Blues, just assume they've won).

What matters is what the Flames do against Winnipeg. Winnipeg is now completely irrelevant, except for that one final game.

The Flames get so much as a point against the Jets, and they have 97. That ties the Kings. And they have the tiebreaker.

Two overtime losses gets the Flames in. One overtime loss and one regulation loss probably doesn't, but still might.

Scenario 3: The Flames lose to the Kings in regulation

The Kings have dominated the Flames throughout the season, but luck has been very much on the Flames' side, giving them a 3-1 series lead. So while the basic scores say otherwise, it's entirely possible the Kings just take control of the game and win it. Be prepared for that.

Should that happen, the Flames and Kings will be tied with 95 points apiece. Flames hold the tiebreaker.

This is what comes next: the Kings play the Sharks in their season finale, while the Flames play the Jets. A win puts the Flames at 97 points, a number the Kings can only tie, and then lose the tiebreaker to. Flames beat the Jets in any capacity, and they clinch a playoff spot.

Say the Flames lose in overtime. Then they need the Kings to lose in regulation or overtime to clinch. A Flames overtime loss to Winnipeg and a Kings victory over San Jose knocks Calgary out of the playoffs.

Say the Flames just lose. They lose their final two games. As long as the Kings lose their final game, the Flames are in.

Two points and you're in

The Flames are exclusively competing for third in the Pacific Division, and they just need two points to claim it as theirs.

(Fun fact: if they win one game and Vancouver loses both their remaining games, the Flames leapfrog the Canucks into second. If they win both games and Vancouver loses one, they're still second. Of course, Vancouver's final games are against the Arizona Coyotes, who made it close against the Flames, and the Edmonton Oilers, who inexplicably beat the Kings, so... they should win them, but maybe they won't?)

The Kings are competing for both third in the Pacific, as well as the second wild card spot. They can't do any better than that.

The Jets are simply competing for a wild card spot, and the Kings are the only team that can push them out.

Literally none of this matters as long as the Flames win a game.

It doesn't matter how they win it.

Just win, and you're in.