The western conference playoff race has been so tight for so long that pretty much every game for the last month has been labelled as must-win. Strangely, every time it looks like the Flames are out of it there is some twist of fate that leads us to believe they still have a chance: they win a few in a row, or one of the teams they’re chasing goes on a losing streak, and all of a sudden they’re right back in the middle of things. With five games remaining, the Flames are only two points out of seventh place – and a win tonight could have dramatic implications on the standings and the team’s playoff aspirations. The question is: can they get it done? The last ten games have been inconsistent at best, and there are still a lot of concerns around a team whose goaltender has looked tired, whose defense has been spotty, and whose forwards have had long stretches where their photos should have been featured on the back of milk cartons. With the LA Kings in town and an opportunity to gain some valuable ground and move back into the top 8, tonight is the night to see if every game really does matter.
On The Line
The season. What else is there really to say?
This one was all Kings coming out of the gate, with the Flames looking a little sluggish and giving up 7 shots on goal in the first two minutes. Thankfully, Kiprusoff looked strong and turned everything away until the rest of the team could find their legs. The Flames seemed to settle in around the 15 minute mark, but the Kings would strike first when a Willie Mitchell shot from the point caught a deflection in front of the Calgary net and dribbled through Kiprusoff’s legs for a 1-0 lead. The Flames got a chance to hit back when Jared Stoll hammered Matt Stajan into the boards from behind, and the Flames wasted no time putting LA’s 4th-ranked penalty kill unit to the test. Calgary looked strong with the man advantage and took the play to the Kings. Heavy shots from Giordano and Babchuk and glorious chances for Glencross and Stempniak would get them close, but not on the board. The Flames seemed to gain some momentum from the kill and turned in a few strong shifts, but the Kings pushed back immediately and pinned the home team in their end for a full minute. LA would get their turn on the power play when Scott Hannan was whistled down for interference, but Kiprusoff and the rest of the Flames PK unit were up to the test. The Kings would get a few good chances but nothing more. Shortly after the penalty expired, Alex Tanguay found himself all alone in front of the Los Angeles net for the Flames’ best chance of the period, but he couldn’t lift the puck up and over a sprawling Jonathan Quick. Anton Babchuk followed up by trying to blast a shot through Quick, but the Kings goaltender stood his ground. The Kings responded with Mike Richards trying to blast himself through Kiprusoff, resulting in a goaltender interference call and the Flames’ second power play chance of the night. Again the Flames generated a few great chances but couldn’t find twine, and the penalty expired along with the period.
The second started out a little sloppy and choppy, with both teams trying to keep the other close in check. Again the Kings outshot the Flames in the first few minutes, and again Kiprusoff answered the call when required. The Kings jumped out to a 2-0 lead when Dustin Brown was allowed to waltz into the Calgary zone untouched and ripped a wrist shot past Kiprusoff, and judging by the drop in crowd noise in the Saddledome, it was clear that the fans could feel the Flames’ playoff hopes draining away. A Dwight King tripping penalty gave Calgary an opportunity to climb back into it, but once more they couldn’t capitalize on the man advantage. The Flames didn’t do themselves any favours for the rest of the period, playing a man short on two occasions when Clay Wilson and Mark Giordano were both handed infractions trying to stave off the Los Angeles attack. Digging deep, they looked great shorthanded and managed to kill off both penalties but just couldn’t generate anything five on five. The Kings’ Matt Greene was sent off for slashing with about a minute left, but the Flames couldn’t get anything done with the extra skater and the teams headed off with LA enjoying a 2-0 lead and the Flames watching their post-season chances evaporating before their eyes.
The most important third period of the season began with the Flames enjoying the back half of their power play, but they couldn’t even muster a shot on goal. After killing the penalty the Kings seemed content just to keep the Flames to the outside, and clamped down with a smothering defensive game that didn’t allow the Flames to generate much of anything. By the midpoint of the period the Flames had only managed one shot on goal and the Saddledome was possibly the quietest it had been all year, with the energy simple sucked right out of the building, the fans, and the home team. Coincidental minors to Jackman and the Kings’ Martinez provided a little 4-on-4 action, opening up the ice a little and giving the teams a little more room to move. The Flames’ best chance consisted of a cross-ice pass that was consequently thrown away by Curtis Glencross, and it started to become apparent that things just weren’t going to work out in favour of the team in red. Blake Comeau got his best chance on night when he fired a shot from the high slot that was actually headed towards the net, but Jonathan Quick made the stop look easy. With the Kings playing shutdown hockey and the fans beginning to serenade the players with a chorus of boos, the Flames just couldn’t get anything together. With just under two minutes remaining Miikka Kiprusoff was sent to the bench for the extra attacker, but Justin Williams would drive the final nail in with an empty netter courtesy of a Giordano giveaway. It was relatively inconsequential when Tim Jackman was banished for tripping with 48 seconds remaining, leaving the Flames to finish the game – and likely their season – short handed. Final score Los Angeles 3, Hope 0.
1. Dustin Brown: Scored the second Los Angeles goal that seemed to just crush the Flames. Was a physical presence all night, getting under the skin of the Flame defenders and spearheading an attack by the Kings’ first line that Flames simply had no answer for.
2. Anze Kopitar: Paced the Kings’ first line with a pair of assists and a pile of ice time.
3. Jonathan Quick: Didn’t have to be stellar but ended up being perfect, putting in a solid effort that gave the Flames fans and players the feeling that he just wasn’t going to be beaten tonight.
Late in the first period with the Kings on the power play and up one nothing, Miikka Kiprusoff somehow found a Drew Doughty bullet through traffic, snaring it with a brilliant flash of the leather that saved a sure goal and kept the Flames within one. Although perhaps not as superhuman tonight as he has been on many other occasions this season, Kiprusoff was certainly not the reason the Flames lost this game.
In a game that was chippy at times but didn’t feature any thunderous hits, Mark Giordano gets the honours for his along-the-boards bump on Kyle Clifford. Sadly, the hit was a microcosm of the Flames season – mediocre.
Jarome Iginla’s stick: where the play goes to die. He did get better as the game went on, but it just looked like the captain was trying to do too much out there. Too many poor decisions with the puck, giveaways, and forced pass attempts; no shots on goal, and a -1 rating. Ugh. You want your best player to be a difference maker, but you want it to be a good difference. It was a particularly rough night for number 12.
Nobody. Once again, the Flames needed someone to step into the breech tonight and it simply didn’t happen. It sums up the 2011-2012 Calgary Flames that they just couldn’t get it done under pressure.
Odds and Ends
After looking absolutely abysmal during his handful of starts early on in the season, Anton Babchuk has looked very strong as of late. He will never be a defensive stalwart in his own zone, but he is playing with much more confidence and his point shot looks absolutely lethal……..You can’t fault Blake Comeau for his effort, but the guy couldn’t find the net with a GPS tracker. It would have been nice to see his goal the other night help him rekindle that offensive spark, but alas, it was not to be……..Am I the only one who gets nervous whenever the Flames have any kind of ceremony before a game? Colour me superstitious, but it seems like it usually means a guaranteed loss. At least the guy they honoured (Art Hernandez) is the man responsible for the saddledome’s food services – which means he is the genius behind those disgustingly good saddledome nachos. That is something I can definitely support……..It is inexplicable how the Flames’ forwards all go MIA at exactly the same time. When this team goes cold, it goes ICE cold. Every player in the Flames top six was more or less unnoticeable tonight, and it is frustrating that this team just doesn’t seem to have the will to gut out results when it has to……..I hate this point of the season. Truthfully, the Flames were pretty much done when they lost the two games to Edmonton and Columbus, and we’ve just been trying to fool ourselves ever since. It may not be mathematical yet, but this team is done like dinner. It sucks to watch them play out the string awaiting the inevitable, and knowing that this summer isn’t likely to yield any changes dramatic enough to reverse this trend next season.
The Colorado Avalanche come calling on Friday night, facing off against the Flames at 7:00 PM in a game that really isn’t as important as it should be.
Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Stempniak – Stajan – Comeau
Kostopolous – Jones – Jackman
Butler – Bouwmeester
Giordano – Hannan
Babchuk – Wilson