At this point, it’s not a question over ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’
The Calgary Flames are on the brink of clinching a spot in the 2021-22 post-season and barring a complete and total implosion that sees them lose the next eight games, they’ll get in eventual (and, we’re guessing here, but there’s still a chance they could make it even if they did soil themselves for the remainder of the regular season).
Still, Thursday’s 6-1 loss to their Pacific Division rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights, isn’t the way you would want to play at any point in the season, let alone in Game No. 74.
“You have to look at the whole picture … You’re playing a team that is a desperate team to get in,” said Flames head coach Darryl Sutter in a salty post-game press conference on Thursday. “And this is a team that is still figuring out what it’s like to be in (the playoffs) or have the opportunity to get in (the playoffs).
“It’s not that hard to figure out, actually.”
The Flames had Friday off, a CBA-mandated day away from the rink, which, maybe, came at a good time considering the grind they’ve had to start the month of April — eight games in a two week span, including last week’s four-game road trip through California and Seattle.
Perhaps it was also a good time for a mental reset, too, as this past week has shown a lack of perseverance in their group, a lack of attention to detail, a lack of preparation. We could go on.
So could Sutter…
“I’d seen it in the last couple of days,” he said on Thursday. “Urgency, energy, emotion, those things … I think one team was way more focused and more urgent.”
They’ll have another chance to turn things around on Saturday and, potentially, secure a playoff spot with a Hockey Night in Canada clash against the Arizona Coyotes, a team that has lost five in a row.
And it could be an interesting one, especially with the way their personnel has struggled. Jacob Markstrom, for one, was pulled in his second consecutive game and didn’t appear as sharp as he normally is.
Their air-tight defence has been leaky lately. Their top line was held off the scoresheet entirely on Thursday.
But they didn’t arrive at Game No. 75 with one of the best records in the Western Conference by accident. Although they’re currently stuck at 99 points, they still believe in themselves and their ability to clinch a post-season spot.
“I think it’s the hardest thing to do is make the playoffs, so it’s a big accomplishment,” Flames forward Blake Coleman was saying after Thursday’s morning skate. “There was a lot of uncertainty with this team coming into the year and to get where you want to go, that’s the first thing you need to do. It’s not lost on us what a big deal it is to make the playoffs. You know, there’s 16 teams that don’t make the playoffs, so it’s a big step for us.
“It’s just a stepping stone that we need to get to where we want to go, but the sooner we can clinch that and feel good about our position, the better.”
That’s the goal, anyway.
“You don’t want it ever to go down to (the final games of the season),” Sutter said, referring to clinching early rather than clawing into the post-season. “Game 81 and 82 aren’t part of the regular season. 81 and 82 are getting ready or packing up. That’s what it’s about. And with our schedule, the way it was set up with that trip at the end of the year, we didn’t want 81 and 82 to be a factor.”