Though the Calgary Flames have yet to clinch a playoff spot, it sure looks like it’s a matter of time. The Los Angeles Kings sit 11 points back of the Flames and at this point it would take a collapse for Calgary to miss the postseason.
So let’s direct our focus to who the Flames will be playing in the playoffs and who they’ll have the greatest chance against. Calgary’s been on a great run of late, but there’s still some opponents that would be better for the Flames than others.
San Jose Sharks
The defending Clarence Campbell Bowl Champions are lined up to make another deep playoff run this year and will be awfully tough to play against. With Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau both en route to becoming unrestricted free agents at season’s end, San Jose will be going for a Cup win this season.
Despite where the Sharks are in the standings, Calgary has had the edge on them this season winning two of three meetings, one at home and one in San Jose. The teams will still meet two more times before the end of the regular season and based on the standings right now, a first round meeting with the Sharks seems to be the most likely scenario for the Flames.
Considering the log jam in the Pacific Division, the Ducks are another highly possible matchup for Calgary in the first round. Much like the Sharks, the Ducks are loading up for what may be one of their last opportunities at a playoff run with their ageing core group of players.
Anaheim has won two of the three meetings between the teams this season with two more games set up. The Ducks were the Flames’ most recent playoff opponent, back in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, so why not a rematch?
Another first seed versus wildcard matchup could be against the Chicago Blackhawks if Calgary falls to the second wildcard spot. The Blackhawks were again buyers at the trade deadline and are ready make a run at their fourth Stanley Cup in the past eight years.
Chicago is debatably the best team in the Western Conference and went 2-0-1 against the Flames this season, with Calgary’s only win coming in a shootout. Nevertheless, with the reputation that the Blackhawks have as playoff performers, they’re probably the last team Calgary would want to face in the playoffs.
With the Battle of Ontario a good possibility in the Eastern Conference, who wouldn’t want the Battle of Alberta in the Western Conference? The Oilers are all but certain to make their first playoff appearance since 2006 led by Connor McDavid and a first round matchup would only continue to add fuel to the fiery Flames/Oilers rivalry.
Edmonton had Calgary’s number this season, winning all four meetings. That said, the Oilers are by far the least experienced playoff team on the list and that could benefit the Flames. Even though the Oilers would be the favourite based on their meetings in the regular season, playoff hockey is a whole new element.
Realistically, the Flames getting into the playoffs at all is a huge leap forward from the disaster that was last year, but that shouldn’t be what Calgary is content with. The Flames have a tough road ahead no matter who they play in the first round, but with the talent they have and the way they’ve been playing recently, Calgary could be the big surprise of this year’s playoffs.
Ben is a journalism student at Ryerson University and covers the Toronto Maple Leafs.