The Calgary Flames have been among the most pleasant surprises of the 2015 NHL season. A young, exciting team that wasn’t expected to contend has risen above their station to make a serious playoff push. They had been in playoff position for the majority of the second half the season until Thursday evening. The Kings beat the Islanders and took sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division, granting them temporary hold of the last guaranteed spot.
Calgary is now in an unenviable position, down to their final seven games. They trail Los Angeles by one single point and are three points behind the pace of the Winnipeg Jets, holders of the final wild card. The good news for Calgary is that they control much of their own playoff fate, with games left against both the Kings and Jets.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each team’s remaining schedule.
Calgary Flames: 7 games remaining, 2 home, 5 road, 4 playoff teams
Calgary’s situation isn’t great for making up ground, but it could be worse. The biggest hurdle they have to face is the remaining road games. They are currently in a five game road trip that started Friday night in Minnesota, a game they lost 4-2. It continues with stops in Nashville on Sunday, Dallas on Monday, St. Louis on Thursday before wrapping up in neighboring Edmonton on Saturday night. They then get two home games against the Coyotes and the Kings before finishing the season Saturday, April 11th in Winnipeg.
Facing Nashville and St. Louis on the road isn’t exactly a comforting idea, but the Flames are as resilient a team as there is in the league. They have ten third period comeback wins and another four games they salvaged a point from before losing in OT. So Calgary isn’t going to just accept defeat now that they have fallen out of a playoff spot. Plus, getting games with Edmonton and Arizona when both teams have no reason to be trying to win is a big positive to their playoff chances.
But how does Calgary’s final slate stack up against their opponents’?
Los Angeles Kings: 7 games remaining, 3 home, 4 road, 3 playoff teams
On the surface, it looks like the Kings have a far easier schedule than Calgary to finish things out. Dig a little deeper and you find out that it is probably an easier schedule. After losing to the Wild last night in a game they dominated possession wise, the Kings are next in action Monday night in Chicago. Then they come come for a two game stay against the Oilers and a suddenly feisty Avalanche squad.
After that, L.A. goes on the western Canada jaunt, facing Vancouver, Edmonton (again) and Calgary. The Kings finish at home against the Sharks, a team that could be eliminated from playoff contention with nothing to play for besides ruining their hated enemies season.
That’s one thing that Calgary could have in their favor down the stretch: every other team’s seething dislike of the Kings. The Kings are the defending champs, so that already makes them a target, plus their physical style of play makes them less than likeable. While the records may be in L.A.’s favor, their reputation could be their biggest obstacle to holding off the Flames.
What about the Jets’ chances for landing on the runway of playoff success for the first time since moving north of the border?
Winnipeg Jets: 7 games remaining, 4 home, 3 road, 5 playoff teams
The Jets’ remaining schedule is incredibly top heavy, starting today with a home game against the Blackhawks. After that, they have two more games at MTS Centre against the New York Rangers and the Canucks before going back on the road for three games. Those three games: at Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado. The Avalanche may not be a playoff team right now, but they are 8-3-1 thus far in March while making a desperate playoff push of their own. Finally, Winnipeg returns home for their season finale against the Calgary Flames.
The Jets currently have a three point edge on the Flames, but with that brutal five game stretch against the Blackhawks, Rangers, Canucks, Wild and Blues, that lead could be gone completely. In all likelihood, the Flames last two games of the regular season will be tremendous matchups with plenty of playoff drama. If you aren’t looking forward to watching the Kings in the Saddledome, or watching a Calgary/Winnipeg in front of those fans with one final playoff spot to be determined, there may be something wrong with you.
Calgary’s road to the playoffs isn’t easy. In fact, they may have already blown their best chance. But the Flames weren’t expected to be in this position anyway. What do they care about projections and estimates? This team has spent an entire season overcoming the odds to get where they are. What’s two more weeks?