CALGARY – The Calgary Flames’ playoff push has become precarious.
The Flames still hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference despite having lost two straight games, including a 4-3 defeat to league-leading Vancouver on Saturday. But the Flames’ hold on that position is tenuous at best at 81 points—one point ahead of Nashville and only two points up on Anaheim.
The Coyotes did Calgary a favour by beating the Ducks on Sunday night, moving Phoenix into a fourth-place tie with Los Angeles at 83 points. Dallas and Chicago are tied for fifth at 82 points.
But this isn’t anything new for Calgary (36-26-9), which has been everywhere from fifth to eighth over the last 10 days. Trouble is, though, the Flames have fewer remaining regular-season games than their rivals to reach the 95-point plateau they believe will land them a post-season berth.
The Flames, who have endured consecutive losses in regulation for the first time since Jan. 3rd and 5th, face an important contest Tuesday night when they host Phoenix.
“We’ve got to watch other teams play and we most likely will be out of a playoff spot when we play our next game,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla admitted. “But we were there a week or two ago too.”
Calgary’s 44 points since Dec. 31 is a major turnaround for a team that was second-last in the conference. The Canucks (48 points), New Jersey Devils (44) and Calgary have been the NHL’s hottest teams since the start of 2011.
But Calgary must sustain the win-two-out-of-three pace it set for itself Dec. 23 or all that work will be for nought.
“This time of year, you never want to lose back-to-back games,” forward David Moss said. “If you have a slipup, you want to get right back at it and get back in the win column.
“Especially where we’re at right now, we can’t really afford to slip too much more. We’re definitely going to have to buckle down here. We need points. We’ve got 11 games left. We’re going to have to win the majority of those to gives ourselves a chance. It starts Tuesday versus Phoenix and we go from there.”
Calgary hosts Colorado on Thursday before embarking on a crucial road trip through Anaheim, L.A. and San Jose.
“We’ve got to find a way to beat those teams above us,” Calgary defenceman Cory Sarich said. “We haven’t done that in our last few tries.”
Further complicating matters is the Flames’ league-leading eight shootout wins could work against them. If teams are tied on points at the end of the regular season, the club with more regulation and overtime wins is ranked ahead.
The Flames weren’t panicking despite the two losses and their precarious playoff position. They consider it just another obstacle in the marathon test of their resiliency this season.
“We deal with it and we load back up and go back at it,” Iginla said. “We’ve faced a lot of challenges this year. We’ve fought back and people have said we’re done and we keep fighting back.
“From our point of view, we believe we can still get there in here. There a lot of games left. The next couple days will be about getting some rest and getting sharper.”
Calgary squandered 2-0 and 3-2 leads against Vancouver, against whom a win would have provided both a boost in the standings as well as to the Flames’ psyche.
The Flames have beaten the Canucks just once this season in a shootout Jan. 22. Vancouver’s previous stop at the Saddledome on Dec. 1 was a 7-2 victory for the visitors.
Calgary’s game and confidence have improved dramatically since then, but the Canucks have been masters this season at gaining the lead by the third period and shutting the door.
Daniel Sedin’s power-play goal with just 16 seconds left in the second was the turning point as Vancouver (45-16-9) won its fifth straight game to further solidify its position atop the NHL.
Calgary caps the regular season April 9 at home versus the Canucks, who may end up resting their stars in that game for the post-season. The Flames can’t count on the same luxury as should they end up eighth in the conference the Canucks could be their first-round opponent.
“Besides that one game we’ve played them pretty tight every game,” Iginla said. “I thought we actually outplayed them the last couple in Vancouver.
“We definitely respect them and think they’ve had a great year, but we don’t think they’re that much better than us, no.”