Flames-Avalanche: Who Will Prevail Tonight, and at the End of the Season?

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Flames-Avalanche: Who Will Prevail Tonight, and at the End of the Season?
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

Friday night's game featuring the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Calgary Flames is a classic matchup of the ultimate underachievers against the ultimate overachievers—with an insanely large amount of importance surrounding it.

The Colorado Avalanche had been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2010 NHL campaign. By Feb. 6, they had already eclipsed their entire point total from last season. 

They were getting steady goaltending from goalkeeper Craig Anderson, who had been starting full-time for the first time in his NHL career. 

They were getting accelerated production from teenagers such as Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, while benefiting from the veteran leadership of Milan Hejduk and Adam Foote. 

Notice that most of that is in past tense.

Then, the Olympic break came.  In retrospect, it could have been the turning point in the Colorado Avalanche's season.

They've been 6-8-1 since the 15 games following the break (1-5-1 in their past seven), and have fallen from possible Northwest Division contention all the way into eighth place in the Western Conference. 

The glaring problem: Craig Anderson hasn't allowed less than three goals in his past eight starts, and has done so only once in his past 15.  Once.  Is a goaltender who has never played with such regularity starting to break down? 

Along with the goaltending struggles, the offense isn't giving him much support.  In this current 1-5-1 funk, they haven't scored more than three goals in any game. 

Not to say that they should be expected to go out there and score eight goals a night on behalf of Anderson, but I'm sure it'd be a nice confidence builder for him to get some kind of victory, even if it was of the 6-5 variety.

We've discussed the overachievers.  Well, they're overachievers for now. They've earned that status with their early season play, but they might be losing it if they continue performing the way they have been.

You want to know who's not overachieving?  Or to be more specific, not achieving at all?

The Calgary Flames.

A team that has one of the best forwards in the world (Iginla) along with one of the best goalies (Kiprusoff) can't possibly miss the playoffs.  Can they?

When their supporting staff isn't, ya know—supporting, it's tough.  After Jarome Iginla, there's only one forward who has eclipsed the 40-point mark.  Maybe that's why they're 28th in goals-per-game in the NHL?

First-year coach Brent Sutter has tried it all.  Grueling practices, closed-door meetings directly after poor performances, and absolutely nothing has seemed to click and get the Flames on any sort of a hot streak. 

They acquired Dion Phaneuf, Matt Stajan, and Niklas Hagman from the Maple Leafs in one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent memory, and that hasn't given them any significant shot in the arm. 

More recently, in one of their most important games of the season last Saturday against the Boston Bruins, they came out and laid a big, fat egg in a 5-0 thrashing. 

To their credit, captain Jarome Iginla told the media they needed to win their last seven games in order to make the playoffs (which may very well be true), and they've won their two games since that remark. 

None of those seven games is as vital as the one on Friday night, when the Flames visit the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center, with the Flames trailing the Avalanche by two points for that exclusive final playoff spot in the Western Conference. 

Luckily for the Avs, they have an extra game in-hand, which means they have two more points they could possibly obtain.  That, combined with the current lead in the standings, gives Colorado the clear advantage.

But is that enough?  Doubt could be beginning to crawl into the young and inexperienced minds of the Avalanche, both in the players and the rookie head coach Joe Sacco.

If they drop this game to Calgary, will they have the confidence that they can fend off a last-minute standings rally from the more experienced Flames?

It's really a very intriguing storyline.  The Avs have the makings of a team that could collapse as easily as a house of cards in a wind tunnel, given their inexperience as a group and the fact that their coach is in his first year behind an NHL bench.

Are they feeling the heat?  If they're not yet, they might be soon.  But that's only on the outside, and we really don't know what goes on in that locker room, or what the general mood is. 

The Flames are a group of players that just haven't clicked all season, but everybody's still anticipating that it could happen. 

Calgary's the type of team that could upset a team such as San Jose in the first round if they're fortunate enough to make it there, due to their stability in net and the potency of the forwards on the roster if they can get their swagger together. 

The overachievers that everyone is waiting to collapse vs. the underachievers that everyone is waiting to catch fire.  Which team has more pressure on them, which team will win this contest, and which team will be playing hockey past April 11?

 

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