The Calgary Flames have put themselves in a very onerous position this season. With just nine games remaining for the team on the regular-season schedule and 10 for the Montreal Canadiens, the Flames can’t afford to lose another game or even give up a point to the Canadiens if they want to sneak into the playoffs. The Habs are the team the Flames are chasing for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Scotia North Division.
Before their three-game set began on Friday, it was well documented that the Flames had to win all three of the contests between the two clubs in regulation. However, after Jacob Markstrom and the Flames posted back-to-back wins over the team on Friday and Saturday, it seems as if the Flames have found a spark.
Exactly What the Doctor Ordered
Sure, the Flames still have an unbelievably tough workload ahead if they want to get into the playoffs, but if they can manage to complete the sweep of this three-game swing over the Canadiens, the Flames could really start to feel the momentum pivot in their favour. They sit four points behind Montreal, but with the next game between the two teams on Monday, and with the Flames gaining confidence after two wins in a row, I think this matchup is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Their offence has been clicking in their last two contests as they’ve combined for nine goals, but before facing the Canadiens on Friday and Saturday, the Flames had scored just three goals in two games against both Montreal and the Ottawa Senators. Johnny Gaudreau also appears to be feeling it right now, as he’s provided two goals and an assist in the last two contests, putting him at 36 points on the season. (Flames move within four points of Canadiens with a 5-2 victory, Montreal Gazette, 04/24/21)
Darryl Sutter is known to coach his teams to a more low-scoring, shutdown style of hockey, and in the last two games, his team hasn’t given up a lot in terms of offense as Montreal has combined for four goals in two games. Sutter was asked after the latest win over Montreal about what he’s seen in two out of the three games played. “Ha. Well, it’s interesting you guys were all saying how close we are and how important the games were but two weeks ago you were saying they weren’t important, so we’ll just keep it in-house and go about our business,” said Sutter with a smirk.
Sutter was short with his words with some of the reporters at times during Saturday’s post-game presser, so with a response like that, something tells me there could be more here — maybe he believes he can take his team on a run and surprise some of the doubters? When he was hired back he said that he had “unfinished business” with the Flames. He is clearly aware that his team is right on the outside looking in of the playoff picture despite this being his first taste of coaching since 2017.
Sutter has even seen teams clinch the playoffs late in the season before, like when he and the Flames didn’t clinch a playoff seed in 2005-06 until game 78 of 82. He has a way of coming through when his team needs him, and a great example was in 2014 when he was coaching the Los Angeles Kings, as they became the first team in the NHL to win three Game 7’s on the road in one playoff run. Judging by Sutter’s response to the earlier question, he is focused on the task at hand right now as his team is still holding out hope.
All Gas, No Breaks
The Flames have an opportunity now to erase some of the horrible memories that have been associated with the 2020-21 season. No one predicted that the team would lose six of their first eight games against the Senators, who happen to be in last place in the Scotia North Division. However, this is the reality the Flames face, and if they do happen to miss the postseason, look no further than their play against those pesky Sens.
The Flames have actually played some great games against the top teams in their division this year, but the games where they should have taken over vs. teams in the basement of their division seem to be no easy task for them. The only way they can make it to the playoffs is by controlling what is currently in their way, and getting some help from the out-of-town scoreboard. The Flames face Montreal, Ottawa, and the Winnipeg Jets one more time each this year, while they face the Edmonton Oilers twice, and the Vancouver Canucks four more times.
Markstrom is likely to start most, if not all of the remaining games in net for the Flames this year. He’s seen multiple back-to-back starts this season, and he spoke about taking over a busy work schedule after Saturday’s win. “Hockey is fun, right? We’re all here because we want to play the game, and you know it’s a lot more fun when you’re winning and with the position we’re in, too, we haven’t set it up for an easy ending of the season especially where we are, we are not where we want to be in the standings so every point and every game is really important.”
The Flames need their best goalie to steal some crucial games for them the rest of the way, and Markstrom is now 6-1 vs. Montreal, so he’ll probably get the nod in net when the Flames rematch against the Canadiens on Monday with Calgary looking for their third-straight win.
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