The 2022-23 season has been an ugly one for the Calgary Flames, but there is hope, even if slight, that they can still sneak into a wild-card spot in the Western Conference. While it is a massive hill to climb, back-to-back wins have increased whatever optimism remains.
The first win came on Monday against the Dallas Stars. After Rasmus Andersson‘s goal in the third period put the Flames up by two, the Stars got goals from Roope Hintz and Jamie Benn to even things up and made it look like the game was headed to overtime.
Overtime was the last thing the Flames needed, as they have lost 13 games after regulation this season. However, overtime wasn’t needed, as Tyler Toffoli took a beautiful pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and found the space to get in behind the Stars’ defenders and beat Jake Oettinger on a breakaway with just seven seconds remaining in the third period. It was a massive goal and helped keep the team’s diminishing playoff hopes alive.
The next night, the Flames did find themselves in overtime, this time against the Minnesota Wild. They seemed to have suffered their 14th overtime loss before Jared Spurgeon’s game-winner was overturned on an offside call. That was also huge, as Toffoli played hero again, this time in the shootout, and the Flames walked away with two points. Hopefully, this recent magic is the start of a big run down the stretch.
Flames Haven’t Made It Easy on Themselves
While the Flames haven’t played great at any point this season, they have particularly struggled since the All-Star break. In 15 games since then, they have managed a 5-6-4 record, which has pushed them further from a wild-card spot. That said, the playoffs are still a possibility, but they need to be far more consistent over their final 17 games if they plan to get there.
Thankfully, those remaining games happen to come against relatively easy competition. Of the 17 outings, just six will come against teams in a playoff position – the Vegas Golden Knights (two games), Stars, L.A. Kings (two games), and the Winnipeg Jets. The other 11 will see them take on the Anaheim Ducks (three games), Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks (two games), Vancouver Canucks (two games), Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators.
Last season, the Predators has the lowest point total of any playoff team with 97. If that is the cut-off line again this season, the Flames will need 26 more points to get in or roughly 13 wins, or perhaps less, with some overtime/shootout losses sprinkled in.
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It’s safe to say the Flames haven’t made things easy on themselves, though there may be a different way of looking at their situation. Calgary now trails the Jets for the final wild-card position by four points. That isn’t insurmountable, but the Jets have a game in hand, which makes things more difficult. However, the Flames play the Jets one more time on April 5.
How they play in the games leading up to that will be a huge factor, but if Calgary is still in the hunt, that game could very well decide the season, and if they are to catch any team in the standings, the struggling Jets may be ripe for the taking (from “Paul Friesen: Pressure mounts as Jets’ tailspin continues,” Winnipeg Sun 03/07/23).
In terms of catching division rivals, that will be tough, if not impossible. The closest is the Edmonton Oilers, who have played the same number of games (65) and have a comfortable seven-point lead. The Oilers would need to slump in a big way for the Flames to catch them, and based on how they have played since acquiring Mattias Ekholm days before the trade deadline, that doesn’t appear likely.
Right now, the Flames need to focus on winning one game at a time rather than checking the standings. If they can string together a few wins in a row here, a long shot right could have better odds and result in a very fun race down the stretch. There is little to no room for error, though they have no one but themselves to blame for that. That said, many Flames have said all season long that they are a better team than their record indicates. Now is the time to prove it.