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Flames Watch: Push for the playoffs an uphill battle

If the Calgary Flames are to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to buck the odds and get hot at the right time.

Buck the odds in a number of ways. Since the lockout, the eighth seed in the Western Conference has qualified with 95, 96, 91 and 91 points each of the past four seasons. The Flames were sitting eighth with a prorated 93 points going into Tuesday night’s game in Ottawa and the schedule isn’t easier after the Olympic break.

Calgary plays 11 of its final 20 games on the road. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the Flames have a far superior record away from the Saddledome, 15-8-6 versus 14-13-3 at home.

The thing that makes it disconcerting for Flames fans is 11 of the 20 games are against teams above Calgary in the standings. And four of the games against the “lower” teams are versus Detroit and Anaheim (two apiece), two teams also chasing that eighth seed and teams that traditionally surge down the stretch. And four more games against “lower” teams involve Minnesota. The Flames have lost their past three games against the Wild.

So the Flames could win 12 times in the final 20 and still miss the playoffs. A lot depends upon how the likes of Nashville, Detroit, Dallas, Anaheim and Minnesota play. This group of six teams, including Calgary, will yield just a couple post-season teams.

Calgary’s precarious situation has a lot more to do with their dry-spell in January. I would have bet my entire 1970s hockey card collection at the start of the season if you wagered that all of Phoenix, Colorado and Los Angeles were going to make the playoffs. Now it looks as though they all will, barring a March meltdown.

Of course, there’s the unmentionable wisdom that making the playoffs as the seventh or eighth seed is a moot point. It would take an epic effort for any of these pretenders to knock off San Jose or Chicago in the opening round.

Calgary’s ideal goal would be to finish sixth, fifth or fourth in the West and face a more reasonable first-round opponent such as Vancouver, Phoenix, Colorado or L.A. But for the Flames to do that they’d have to win 15 or 16 of their 20 post-Olympic games. That would mean a whole lot of jelling during their two-week Olympic holiday.

This article also appeared in the Calgary Metro newspaper.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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