The Calgary Flames were defeated in overtime tonight by the Nashville Predators 2-1. Adrian Aucoin gave the puck away deep in Calgary's zone about 2 minutes into overtime to Alexander Radulov, whose shot hit the post and was rebounded in by JP Dumont. Although one might call this a game with a playoff type atmosphere, personally I thought the Flames' effort was uninspiring. It was the second straight game that Miikka Kiprusoff had to keep the Flames in the game after Tuesday's 1-0 squeaker over the Blue Jackets, in which he made 39 saves, including a whopping 18 in the first period. Tonight's game was not much different, as Kipper made 34 saves in a losing effort including 14 in the first period. The last two games have proven that the so-called "goaltending controversy" in Calgary was nothing more than a fabrication created by media in need of a good front page column. Craig Conroy scored the Flames' only goal for the second straight game, taking advantage of a bad Shea Weber giveaway in his own zone and sniping a shot into the top left corner over Dan Ellis to open the scoring. The Flames held on to this lead until about nine minutes into the third, when Scott Nichol came down the wing and bounced a shot off Kipper's shoulder into the net. Nashville nearly handed Calgary a steal of a win when Alexander Radulov took what Barry Trotz described as a "brain dead" penalty for closing his hand on the puck with precisely two minutes left. But on the power play for the rest of regulation, the Flames could not kill the Predators.
There has been a bit of media hype surrounding Jarome Iginla on the verge of passing Theoren Fleury's record to become the Flames' all-time goal leader (heightened by Iginla failing to do so on Tuesday with the diminutive man himself in the building, as if Theo's mere presence could cause Iginla to break the record). I have treated this hype the same way I have treated the so-called goaltending controversy - nothing but text on a newspaper page. But tonight, as was the case on Tuesday, was an all too familiar reminder of what happens to the Flames when Iginla is not his usual formidable self. Iginla had just three shots on goal. Iginla did not receive much help, though; Daymond Langkow, Alex Tanguay and Owen Nolan had a combined four shots (the same total Radek Bonk recorded for Nashville.) Kristian Huselius remains snakebitten, with five shots tonight. In the weeks leading up to the trade deadline I had been a strong advocate of trading Huselius but since the deadline he has simply run into a string of pure bad luck and should come back to scoring form soon.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Flames' lost in a mediocre effort following a terrible practice. On February 29th following the Flames' 3-1 loss to the Ducks in Anaheim, Mike Keenan said he saw the loss coming, citing a terrible practice that morning. Yesterday, Keenan pulled the Flames off the ice after just twenty minutes of practice, again calling it terrible and criticizing his team for their poor practice effort. I'm not sure if this says anything specific about the team, but you can make up your own minds. It is interesting to note, though.
Somewhat luckily for the Flames, Minnesota lost 3-2 in a shootout to Atlanta, enabling the Flames to still keep their minuscule Northwest Division lead (although tied in points with 80 apiece, the Flames are ahead of Minnesota because they have a game in hand and a season series advantage). However, the red-hot Avalanche are creeping up on both teams, having won five in a row, two points behind and set to play back-to-back games over the weekend. A win tonight would have put the Flames two points ahead of Minnesota, and four ahead of Colorado heading into a two day break. Instead, by the time the St. Louis Blues roll into town on Monday, the Flames could be clinging to the eighth seed.
However, the Flames are brewing a recipe for disaster. Having to rely on Kiprusoff to steal games and the magic of the out of town scoreboard is not a winning strategy, especially when Iginla is being shut down. This kind of game is the exact reason why I think the Flames could just as easily scrape the 8th seed off another team losing on the second last day of the season (as was the case last year) as they could win the division.
If this is the way Calgary is going to be playing against playoff teams for the remaining 14 games, the next five games could sink or save the Flames' playoff hopes (or at the very least, their hopes of winning the division.) Starting with St. Louis on Monday, four out of the Flames' next five opponents are six points or more out of the playoffs (the Blues, Thrashers, Blackhawks and Blue Jackets, the only exception is Washington on Monday which is four points out.)
Let's hope the Flames aren't singing the Blues on Monday.