The Calgary Flames' divisional hopes officially died Thursday night with a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, who clinch the Northwest with the win. More importantly to Calgary, though, was their failure to get the one point needed to clinch a berth in the playoffs. The Flames remain in 7th place in the West with 92 points, just one above the Nashville Predators and four above the Vancouver Canucks, who are currently in a must-win game against the Edmonton Spoilers. This is a one time statement, but: Go Oilers. If the Oilers manage to win in regulation, the Canucks will be eliminated from contention and the Flames will therefore clinch. Otherwise, the Flames will have to play the Canucks for the final playoff spot on Saturday night, a grim scenario for Calgary who has been completely dominated (the Canucks having a 5-2 season series advantage) by Vancouver this season. This is an eerily similar situation to last year's final two games of the season for the 8th seed between Calgary and Colorado, and just like that gong show, I am rooting for the other teams to give Calgary a playoff berth because I doubt they will be able to get it on their own. I probably haven't felt so bad about being right for a long time (since I've predicted this would happen for a long time now.) UPDATE: the Oilers have now successfully spoiled the Canucks' playoff hopes, 2-1, and by doing so give the Flames and Predators a playoff ticket. While I still don't have high hopes, at least the Flames got in, I don't think I could handle them outright missing, my frustration would just make my head explode. Hopefully the Flames will beat the Canucks and get 6th.
The game itself was, suffice to say, a disappointment. Although it wasn't an altogether horrible effort from the Flames, it was just mediocre enough to lose (much like the Flames team as a whole). The Flames got an early goal from Daymond Langkow on the powerplay before the Wild tied it up 3:13 later on their own powerplay, when Adrian Aucoin left Todd Fedoruk open and the latter converted a centering pass. The second period was largely Minnesota's, as Miikka Kiprusoff kept the Flames in the game with 12 saves, including an incredible pad save on another centering pass. But in the third period, Marian Gaborik broke the deadlock early on and the Flames couldn't get out of Minnesota's signature trap, never getting another good chance on goal after this. Gaborik later sealed the game with another powerplay goal at the 13:11 mark.
I think this game highlighted all of the Flames' weaknesses and all of the reasons I doubt the Flames will get past the first round, if they make the playoffs at all. Bad special teams, laziness and lack of speed (it seemed Minnesota spent practically the whole second period on the power play), weak secondary defence (Adrian Aucoin and Anders Erikkson could be blamed for Gaborik's two goals, and I forget the name of the defenceman who left Fedoruk open) and an over reliance on their two franchise players, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff. It seems Jacques Lemaire has figured out how to stop Iggy, as he had just four shots (less than both Matthew Lombardi and Brian Rolston) preventing him from potting number 50.
The disastrous scenario of the Flames missing the playoffs is now only two games away - Nashville and Calgary's next games - from happening. Every Flames fan should be cheering for the Oilers right now, and they're scoreless after one with the Canucks. While I've been predicting the Flames would suffer a first round exit for the past month, the possibility of actually missing the playoffs never actually became real in my mind until this week.
Time to fall over backwards into the playoffs again. Either that or recieve our rightful fate. Oh, how fate works sometimes: if the Oilers win in regulation, they'll spoil the Canucks' playoff chances, if they lose, they'll probably spoil the Flames. UPDATE: they chose to spoil the Canucks and give us a playoff berth. Don't be surprised if we return the favor next year, with the Oilers and Flames having reversed positions...