After tough weekend, is there hope left for Flames' playoff chances?

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The playoffs look like a long-shot for the Calgary Flames.

Not impossible, necessarily, but after losing big to the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes over the weekend, going on a run and qualifying for the post-season is going to take a gargantuan effort from a Flames team that looked on Saturday and Sunday like it might have run out of gas a bit.

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The Vegas Golden Knights are sitting in the Western Conference’s second wild card position and are on pace to finish the regular season with 96 points.

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To finish ahead of them and get to 97 points if the Golden Knights keep up that pace, the Flames would need to win 15 of their final 18 games.

Impossible? No, not technically, but that’s tough.

But we’re not here to write an obituary. Not yet.

Instead, here’s a look at a few reasons why Flames fans shouldn’t give up hope – while also acknowledging why a little pessimism about the team’s chances is entirely reasonable.

REASON TO BELIEVE: THE SCHEDULE IS FRIENDLY

Of the Flames’ remaining 18 games, nine of them come against teams who were below them in the standings as of Monday morning. Several of those teams are in full-on rebuild mode and in the case of any of the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks, they’re going to be playing for nothing but pride by the time the Flames face them in April.

Those are all extremely winnable games and if the Flames can stay within striking distance until April, they’ve got a schedule that’s conducive to a late miracle push for the playoffs. Whether or not they can stay in the post-season hunt until then, of course, is a bigger question.

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ON THE OTHER HAND: THAT HASN’T HELPED

One of the most frustrating things about following the Flames over the past two seasons is that they’ve seemed to play worse against the league’s bottom-feeders. Already this season, they’ve gone 3-4  in seven games against the NHL’s bottom-five (Chicago, Anaheim, San Jose, Ottawa and Columbus).

If the Flames had managed even slightly better in those seven games, the gap between themselves and the Western Conference’s wild card teams would be significantly smaller.
So while it’s reasonable to say that the NHL’s schedule makers have served up a stretch run with lots of games that appear winnable on paper, we all know the game isn’t played on paper. The Flames’ record against also-rans this season is part of why they are what they are.

REASON TO BELIEVE: THEIR RECENT LOSSES HAVE COME AGAINST GOOD TEAMS

The Flames are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that management traded away two of their top-four defencemen, in Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin, over that stretch.

And their losses over that stretch have come against some pretty good teams. The Detroit Red Wings aren’t elite just yet, but they’re a young, hungry team that’s pushing to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Seattle Kraken are right there in the wild card fight with the Flames and the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

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There are no positives to be taken from this weekend’s losses to the Panthers and ‘Canes. The Flames played poorly, that’s all there is to it.

But over the past month, they’ve otherwise been playing decent hockey and putting in great efforts, even in defeat.

Calgary Flames vs. Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers forward Kevin Stenlund scores on Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday, March 9, 2024. Photo by Joel Auerbach /Getty Images

ON THE OTHER HAND: THIS WEEK

It’s great that the Flames are only losing to good teams, but they have basically zero room for error right now and there are two more difficult opponents coming through the Saddledome in the next couple of days.

First, it’s the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

The Avs have won three-in-a-row and Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Co. are on everybody’s short-list of teams that are capable of going on a Cup run this year.

Then, the Flames have a date with the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. Yes, the same Golden Knights who acquired Hanifin in one of the major moves prior around the NHL before last week’s trade deadline. Oh, and they’re the reigning Stanley Cup champions, no big deal.

If the Flames don’t play better this week than they did over the weekend, they can forget about any lingering long-shot playoff hopes.

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REASON TO BELIEVE: HEAD-TO-HEAD GAMES AGAINST THE TEAMS THEY’RE TRYING TO CATCH

If the Flames have any hope of catching anyone in the standings, it’s the Golden Knights or the Los Angeles Kings, both of whom have 75 points, although the Kings are ahead in the standings because they’ve played fewer games.

Fortunately for the Flames, they’ve got games against both before the end of the season. That starts with the aforementioned matchup with the Golden Knights on Thursday and then the Flames will also host the Kings at the Saddledome on March 30.

If this feels like grasping for straws a bit, there’s probably some truth in that. But if you’re the Flames, those games represent four-point swings. Win, and you give yourself a chance. Lose, and the writing is on the wall.

ON THE OTHER HAND: THEY JUST TRADED ONE OF THEIR BEST PLAYERS TO ONE OF THOSE TEAMS

In his post-game interview on Sunday, Flames forward Dryden Hunt talked about how the matchups with the Panthers and Hurricanes had been opportunities to see how his team measured up against opponents who were “going for it” this year. He noted that the Avalanche and Golden Knights were also teams that fit that categorization.

Put plainly, the Flames were sellers in the build-up to the NHL trade deadline. The Golden Knights, who hold aspirations of repeating as champions, were buyers. Their record may not have them among the elite-of-the-elite of the NHL but they acquired both Hanifin and Tomas Hertl last week. They’re better than their record suggests, and the Golden Knights and Flames sure look like teams going in different directions.

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