March Madness for the Calgary Flames will play out in the next 10 days during the team’s seven-game road trip.
It will either reinforce what has, to date, been a fabulous season or erase a lot of positive strides the Flames have made.
The team got off to a good start in Ottawa Tuesday with a 6-3 win over the Senators, but the Flames can’t expect to see such poor goaltending the rest of the trip.
Calgary’s challenge the next six games will be finding a way to remain competitive on the road while trying to overcome the injuries that have decimated the team.
Mark Giordano, Rene Bourque and Wayne Primeau won’t be back anytime soon, while the status of Daymond Langkow and Todd Bertuzzi is day-to-day. So with five regulars out of the lineup, it’s tough to be critical if the Flames were to go 2-4 or even 1-5 on the rest of this road trip.
Consider the Flames play three premier teams (Philadelphia, New Jersey and Detroit), a team battling to make the playoffs (Carolina) and two bottom-feeders (Atlanta and Toronto).
Compounding matters is the fast-charging Vancouver Canucks’ easy schedule over their next six games. With home games against San Jose, Los Angeles, Colorado and St. Louis, and road matches in Anaheim and Los Angeles, the Canucks could easily go 5-1 in that stretch.
Combine a 1-5 Calgary road trip with a 5-1 Vancouver run and all of a sudden the eight-point division lead the Flames had is completely wiped out by mid-March.
Even if Calgary’s lead is culled to two or three points, it means the Flames will have a battle on their hands the final month of the season. It will make a significant difference come playoff time.
Winning the division gives the Flames home-ice advantage in the first round and a potential match-up versus either Columbus, Edmonton, Nashville, Anaheim, Dallas or Minnesota. They’re all teams Calgary performs well against.
Lose the division title to Vancouver and the Flames likely wind up with the fourth or fifth seed and a probable first-round battle with nemesis Chicago. Calgary has lost all four games against the Hawks this season by a combined score of 19-7.
This column also appears in the Calgary Metro newspaper.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.