When the Calgary Flames welcome the Anaheim Ducks to the Scotiabank Saddledome tonight, I can promise you there will be at least five other teams around the Western Conference watching this game, or at least the scoreboard, with great interest.
The Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks will undoubtedly be watching most urgently as the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference will be up for grabs tonight. With a win tonight the Calgary Flames will leapfrog the Dallas Stars into ninth place and will be just a single point behind the Chicago Blackhawks, who failed to capitalize on their game-in-hand yesterday against Boston.
This game also has big repercussions for the Nashville Predators, who sit just a single point ahead of Anaheim in sixth (while also being a game ahead), the Los Angeles Kings (three points ahead), and the Phoenix Coyotes (four points ahead with two less games to play).
The Detroit Red Wings will also be watching this one with interest because with a win tonight, Anaheim can leap past the Nashville into sixth, setting up a Western Conference Quarterfinal match-up between Nashville and Detroit, a division-rival series that the Predators have dominated this year.
But most importantly of all of the implications of this huge game in Alberta tonight, the Calgary Flames will essentially be fighting for their season. They can't be mathematically eliminated with a loss here tonight, but falling in regulation would make battling back into the playoffs an enormous hill to climb.
The Flames enter the night 10th in the Western Conference with 87 points, three behind the eighth place Blackhawks who are idle tonight.
To make things worse, the Flames only have five games remaining this season, tied with Nashville and Vancouver and one more than Phoenix. Anaheim and Chicago both have six. Dallas has seven.
Even with a regulation win, the Flames cannot climb back into the playoffs tonight. A win would certainly put them back within striking distance, but the bottom line is they need someone immediately above them to lose, and they need to keep winning.
They can create this scenario tonight when they host an Anaheim Ducks team who has dominated the season series between these two so far, going a perfect 3-0.
Last time these two teams met in Anaheim just over a week ago, the Ducks jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, only to let Calgary battle back and take a 4-3 lead in the third period. This set up yet another instance of late-game drama from Anaheim as Teemu Selanne would tie the game and Corey Perry would then pot the game winner in overtime.
No doubt the Flames would love to avenge this loss, and another similar overtime loss that came the last time these two met in Calgary (ended on a Cam Fowler overtime goal), but revenge is secondary for the Flames tonight, who need two points to stay afloat in the race for the playoffs.
Calgary will once again be relying on captain Jarome Iginla to lead the team offensively, and the goaltending talent of all-star Miikka Kiprusoff to try to turn around their sliding form that has seen them win only four of their last ten games. Rene Borque needs to stay hot as well, riding a streak of seven points in six games.
They will still be without the services of Nick Hagman, Daymond Langkow, Freddy Modin, and Adam Pardy, among others, due to a slew of injuries to their lineup.
However, the Flames are coming off a refreshing three days of rest, something that will no doubt put some much needed energy back into their legs for tonight.
Anaheim on the other hand will be looking to keep up their blistering surge up the Western Conference standings. They're a beautiful 8-2-0 in their last ten contests (a record bettered only by Los Angeles and New York's 8-1-1, and Vancouver's 9-1-0), and are coming off a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
They're led offensively by Corey Perry, now the leading goal scorer in the NHL, Ryan Getzlaf, who is on pace to have one of his best offensive years of his career, and Teemu Selanne, who became just the fourth player in NHL history to score a hat trick over the age of 40 in the win over Colorado.
Ray Emery has been sparkling in net since his return to the NHL, going a perfect 5-0 since putting on a Ducks uniform. I'm guessing he'll be the starter tonight for Anaheim.
Expect a hard-fought battle of desperation from the Calgary Flames, and expect an equally hard-fought answer from the Anaheim Ducks, as they would love to boost their spot in the standings as well as pound what might be the final nail into the coffin of the Calgary Flames season.
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