The Calgary Flames lost 3-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks tonight, as Nikolai Khabibulin continued his dominance of Calgary with his 19th career win over the Flames. The Flames outshot Chicago 12-6 in the third period, but were unable to tie the game despite several close chances. With the loss, the Flames miss out on an opportunity to take the Northwest divisional lead, as Minnesota lost 1-0 tonight to Dallas. They slip dangerously back into eighth, one point ahead of Vancouver and two ahead of Phoenix, but third in the division behind Colorado, who are one point behind the Wild. Next up is suddenly hot Edmonton in the 'Dome on Saturday....the Flames better hope they don't put up a stinker like the 5-0 humiliation on Monday. I don't think I need to mention how important this game is...at this point of the year, in the position Calgary is, every game is important until you see an 'X' next to your name in the standings.
After a scoreless, relatively even first period, the big action came in the second. About seven minutes in, Duncan Keith opened the scoring for the Hawks with a quick one timer that beat Kipper between the pads from the point. The Flames were able to tie the game about four minutes later, as Alex Tanguay continued to either increase or decrease his trade value depending on how you look at it, taking it past the blueline after a hit by Owen Nolan and making a nice dropoff to Adrian Aucoin, who scored on a slapshot from the point. However, the period would belong to the Hawks, outshooting the Flames 15-4 thanks to Calgary's four penalties. At 15:07, two seconds after Robyn Regehr had left the box, Patrick Sharp scored the game winning goal after a heavy pressure power play, wiring home yet another one timer from the point. For the second straight game, the Flames' best effort was in the third, but this time there would be no heroics, as Khabibulin made 12 saves. The Flames' best chance came when Jarome Iginla almost jammed the puck in during a goal line scrum, but Khabibulin managed to get back and push the puck away just before it crossed the goal line. The Hawks later got an empty netter from Yanic Perreault to seal the deal.
While the Phoenix game gave me optimism, the reality is that the Flames have now lost 3 of their last 4 games. At this pace, a repeat of last year's near miraculous making of the playoffs (for those needing refreshment of their memories, if the Flames had won one of their last five games they would have clinched a playoff spot, but they lost them all, and only got in the playoffs because Colorado lost to Nashville, which had already clinched, on the second last day of the season) is possible. That may be drastic to say, but the Flames' inconsistency cannot be overlooked. They have now lost to two of the worst teams in the league (RECORDS wise, cool it Hawks and Oilers fans) in one week. You simply need to win these games to make the playoffs, let alone win the division, which as of now I'm seeing as a bonus. Make excuses involving Khabibulin, bad luck, blah blah blah all you want. At least Edmonton is actually suddenly in the playoff hunt; Chicago is still nine points out.
Is it just me, or are the Flames taking a lot of lazy penalties lately? In the second, they took two hookings and an interference (the latter of which led to Sharp's GWG.) They are also getting forechecked very easily the past three games. Is this indicative of their lack of speed, or just laziness?
Sidenote: Rhett Warrener was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. We pay this guy $2.5 million for what? Don't get me wrong, I loved the guy in '04 but that was '04...
I know it sounds rather redundant coming from a regular poster on a hockey rumor site, but I have a feeling Sutter will make a trade soon (although probably not that top line center - that'll probably not happen until the deadline if it happens). He has made two big deals in February two years in a row (last year's ill-fated Brad Stuart rental, and the year before that another ill-fated deal, trading Steve Reinprecht to Phoenix.) ESPN.com conveniently has an archive of all game scores dating back to 2003-2004. Looking back in this archive, I can find something of interest with both deals: the Stuart deal was made after Calgary's third straight loss, and the Reinprecht deal was made after Calgary had lost their third of the past four games (hmmm...). The climate in Calgary couldn't be better for a trade right now, if this trend is any indication. And since Calgary's cap conundrum may make this year the best shot we have at a Cup for a while, Sutter can't afford to stand pat this year, nor can he afford to pull a Stuart.
Here's hoping we crush the Oilers on Saturday like we should be doing.
(PS: This Sunday, coincidentally, is the first year anniversary of the Stuart trade. I guess time flies...but Wayne Primeau doesn't.)