The 2017-18 National Hockey League season is winding down and the Calgary Flames are pushing hard for a playoff spot. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll be successful in their quest – the odds are stacked against them – if they do make it in, there are a lot of different teams they could be matched up against.
Here is a quick rundown of five most likely first round opponents for the Flames, listed in descending order from most to least likely.
Flames versus the golf course
It’s worth noting that, according to Sports Club Stats’ forecasts, this is the most likely scenario. 91.2% of scenarios see the Flames fall short of making the post-season and spending the second week in April golfing and thinking about beach vacations rather than preparing for a particular opponent.
This is the most likely scenario, but probably the least fun to ponder.
Flames versus Predators
The most likely opponent for the Flames if they make it in (with a 4.2% chance), the Predators are the Western Conference’s top team and one of the scariest possible playoff opponents. They’re basically an evolved version of the Flames: they have a stacked defensive group, a balanced lineup, and play a smart, puck possession-based style of hockey.
My road to the playoffs for the #Flames:
– Win at home vs. SJS
– Split road trip at VGK and ARI
– Win at home vs. ANA
– Split road trip at SJS and LAK
– Win at home vs. CBJ, EDM and ARI
– Split at WPG and vs. VGK
Can they do it?
— Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills) March 16, 2018
Despite Nashville’s record, they may be the potential opponent that the Flames match up best against. The Flames won two out of three meetings with Nashville this season and didn’t seem too phased by the crazy crowd at Bridgestone Arena nor the Predators’ style of play. These teams will meet if the Flames can cement the second wild-card playoff spot. They’ve never met in the postseason.
Flames versus Sharks
The Flames have a 2% chance of matching up with the Sharks, a Pacific Division rival and a team they’ll face if they can nail down a divisional playoff spot. They haven’t fared too well against the Sharks, losing all three of their meetings so far this season – they have one game remaining. For the most part the games have all been close, but the speedy Flames have bristled at times when playing the physical, tight-checking style of game that the Sharks thrive in.
These clubs have met three times in the playoffs, most recently a 2008 first round series won by the Sharks.
Flames versus Golden Knights
The NHL’s newest franchise is the Flames’ first round opponent in 1.2% of scenarios, usually by virtue of the Flames finding their way into the first wild-card playoff spot. They have yet to solve the Golden Knights and their first two meetings saw the Flames lose in disparate fashion: the first was a 4-2 loss via three rapid-fire goals against during the dying minutes of the game, the second was a 7-3 loss that saw the Golden Knights pull away in the second period.
The Flames have had challenge with the Golden Knights’ speed and balance, as they’ve exposed their own lack of speed in the bottom two forward lines. They’re arguably the worst stylistic match-up for the Flames of all their potential opponents.
Flames versus Kings
There’s only a 1% chance that these clubs could meet – the Flames would need to win a divisional spot – but it would be another installment of what’s become arguably the team’s top regular season rivalry. The Flames had to engage in some spirited regular season trench wars with the Kings to make the playoffs in both 2015 and 2017, so it’d be rather fitting if they met in the postseason – the last time they met in the playoffs was way back in 1993.
The Flames have matched up well against the Kings this season, with offensive outbursts from Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk pacing them to two wins in three meetings thus far – their third game was an overtime loss for the Flames. Johnny Gaudreau has historically excelled against the Kings, generating more points against them than any other opposition team.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.