Last night, after the Flames' one-period effort of a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, I wrote that the next day's game against the Atlanta Thrashers was a must win for the Calgary Flames. And what did they do?
Why, blow a 3-0 lead and lose 6-4 to the 14th ranked team in the East, of course.
It seemed, early on, that the Flames were listening to this 17-year-old's advice. Play-by-play man Roger Millions and color commentator Charlie Simmer commented on the angry attitude of the Flames at practice that morning, with Millions noting that he had not seen the team like that all season. 14 minutes in, with the Flames shorthanded, Daymond Langkow stole the puck at center ice, raced across the blueline and shot a low wrister between Kari Lehtonen's pads. Four minutes later, Jarome Iginla tipped in an Adrian Aucoin blueline shot for his 43rd of the year to make it 2-0 heading into the 2nd. Early in the 2nd, Iginla made it 3-0, but this momentum would be erased barely two minutes after Iggy's 44th. Ilya Kovalchuk and Colby Armstrong scored within 19 seconds of each other, and just like that it was 3-2. Wayne Primeau, of all Flames, got the two goal lead back on a 2-on-1 12:39 in, but the Thrashers were determined to play spoiler, and the Flames' regained momentum lasted just under five minutes before Kovalchuk scored his second on the powerplay. Approximately 10 minutes into the third, Iginla hit the crossbar and Atlanta's Chris Thorburn took it the other way, deking out Curtis Joseph to tie the game. And in a virtual repeat of the Washington game, the Flames allowed the winning goal with less than five minutes left, this time Bobby Holik slapping one home with 3:47 left. Calgary got just one shot on goal before Kristian Huselius took a penalty with a minute left, killing the Flames' chances.
I don't need to say what a disgusting loss this was, even though I just reviewed it in excruciating detail. This was the worst game the Flames have played since they got drubbed 5-0 by the Oilers back in February. Speaking of the Oilers, as I type this they are losing 5-1 to the Colorado Avalanche, who with the Flames' loss took the Northwest lead because of their superior season series record against Calgary; now they could have a one point lead, depending on the result of the Canucks-Coyotes game. Minnesota has already gotten a point from a 4-3 shootout loss to the Devils, putting them in the two way tie, which will be a three way tie if Vancouver wins, for the 6th, 7th and 8th spots. Guess who's in the latter spot? Can you see why I thought this was a must win game now?
Essentially, all the pressure the Flames could have put on the rest of the Northwest had they won the last two games, has been applied to them now. The Flames don't play again until Sunday against the Blackhawks, while Colorado, Minnesota and Vancouver all play the previous night.
On March 1, I looked at the Western standings, looked at the point trends for playoff teams over the past three years, and came to the conclusion that while the Flames did not have a strong chance of getting past the first round, it was reasonable to assume that the Flames would make the playoffs, unless they had a significant collapse. I calculated the Flames could make the playoffs even if they won only 8 out of 17 remaining games. However, the past three games have shown that the Flames are on pace to collapse exactly as I somehow doubted they could, in my naivete. Being a diehard fan of both the Flames and Stampeders has taught me never to underestimate the mediocrity of Calgary teams.
I realize I might be starting to become repetitive in my blog posts. I also realize you could dismiss me as a Chicken Little blogger right now, after all, the Flames still stand a fairly good chance of making the playoffs. But the past three games have shown precisely why I have zero faith in the Flames to make it past April, whether they'll be eliminated in the first round or the 82nd game or sooner. The only playoff team they are competent against is Minnesota, They've lost terribly played games to bubble teams, have lost several times to bottom 10 teams in the past two months, and are of course all too inconsistent. In short, they can't beat anyone. I apologize for any repetitiveness, I'm just tired of mediocrity.
This is a terribly cynical thing to say, even by my standards, but hey, maybe it will be better for the Flames overall if they miss the playoffs. (Note, I'm only half-serious here.) No matter how mediocre this year's Flames will prove to be, next year's team should be worse due to a probable youth movement forced by a jam of a cap situation. Last year, the Flames got an 8th seed they didn't deserve and got a humiliation they fully deserved in the first round. Yet afterwards, I was disgusted by some letters published in the Calgary Herald. At least one "fan" said that the Flames had a "great run". Now, I know these letters are no indication of Flames fans as a whole, in fact the Herald is notorious for publishing idiot Flames fans in their letters or sports sections. That's not why I bring this up, though. If fans are satisfied with merely making the playoffs how will they react if they miss the playoffs? Perhaps if the Flames miss the playoffs, it will prompt the organization to attempt to speed up the process of building around the Flames' admittedly excellent foundation of Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, and Miikka Kiprusoff. And while I have carefully refrained from questioning whether Darryl Sutter is still fit to be general manager of the Flames...it will be interesting to see what Ken King thinks when this season is done. That is all I will say.
This was a long, bitter and cynical post and I know that there's a chance I'll look back on this and say I was being just a bit too pessimistic. I mean, on the bright side, Phoenix is up 2-0 on Vancouver with 2:33 left. And the Flames still stand a reasonable chance of making the playoffs. Until, or should I say unless, they get mathematically eliminated I'll still keep that small naive, unreasonable, gut hope that resides in the very back of my heart if not my head. But it simply doesn't look good at this point and the core feeling I've had about this team the past two years - frustration - is being let out right now.
Every game now is equally important. The new most important games of the year for Calgary are the next two: Chicago and Columbus.