It's a showdown game between the ninth-place Flames and eighth-place Avalanche, Northwest Division opponents who are separated by two points in the standings and appear headed in opposite directions as the regular season winds down.
Or, so that's what the Flames want to believe after back-to-back wins over Washington and Phoenix catapulted them into position so they could pull into a virtual tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a regulation win in Denver.
The Avalanche, 4-0-1 against Calgary this season, have lost three straight and six of seven.
"There was a different level of urgency in Washington and our last game at home here against Phoenix as far as our play was concerned," Flames coach Brent Sutter told NHL.com Thursday. "Our play has been inconsistent and that's why we're in the situation we're in. But when you're in the situation we're in, you need a level of urgency and we just weren't getting it on a regular basis."
The Flames beat the Capitals, 5-3, Sunday and followed that up with a 2-1 win over the Coyotes. Those four points came after back-to-back, dreadful losses on Long Island and in Boston when it appeared the Flames were dead in the water.
They have life again, but so much of their breath rests on Friday's game. A regulation loss will put Calgary four points behind Colorado with only four games left, three of which are against the current top three seeds in the West (San Jose, Chicago, Vancouver).
"We've got to approach it no different than how we have approached our last few games here," Sutter said. "They are desperate times. We have to play well. Every game to us has been like a Game 7 and that's the way it has to be approached. Yes, the opponent is the opponent that is two points up on us and we have that opportunity to close that gap but our approach needs to be no different."
Why, though, are the Flames in this predicament? They were 17-6-3 through November, first in the Northwest Division, but falling ever since.
"If you can't score in the NHL today, you're not going to be able to win and it shows up at every turn," Craig Button of the NHL Network told NHL.com. "And, they don't score."
The Flames are 28th in the NHL in goals per game (2.51) and 27th in shots on goal per game (28.4).
The only teams that score less than the Flames are Edmonton and Boston. The Oilers are dead last in the League while the Bruins are in a similar situation as the Flames, fighting like heck to get into the playoffs.
"Here are Calgary and Boston, excellent defensive teams, but why are they where they are? Because they can't score," Button said. "You have to balance things, but Calgary doesn't have balance. They were saying they were trying to get balance, but they don't score any more now than they did before the trades they made."
Button is just about right.
Before the Flames made major moves in early February, swapping out guys like Dion Phaneuf and Olli Jokinen
for Matt Stajan
, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik, they were averaging 2.50 goals per game.
In the 21 games since all those new players joined the club, the Flames are scoring just 2.52 goals per game. Stajan, Hagman, Mayers, Higgins and Kotalik have combined for just 12 goals in Flames' uniforms.
"Do you ever see the Calgary Flames score off the rush or score off turnovers? They want to dump the puck, chase it down, grind it, push it, beat it up and then maybe get it around the net," Button said. "They play a dump-and-chase game, which becomes an exercise in futility because you have to work so hard to get the puck back, and when you play good teams they don't give up the puck."
Button said it's easy to simply evaluate the roster and find out that other than Jarome Iginla
, who has only 1 goal in his last 11 games, Calgary doesn't have any natural goal scorers.
"The fact that Jarome has 32 goals and 69 points, if you extrapolate that, it's got to be the equivalent to 50 goals playing where he plays and the style he has to play," Button said.
Button also doesn't believe Calgary has "anyone on the blue line that can generate any offense." Jay Bouwmeester
was supposed to be that player, but he has only 3 goals and 25 assists in 77 games. Phaneuf is no longer with the club.
"It's not a criticism against Jay, but Jay isn't that type of player," Button said. "They are playing a style of game that isn't conducive to scoring chances. The game so much now is about getting scoring opportunities and limiting scoring opportunities. The Flames, they limit the chances against, but they don't get the chances for."
Even with all that, Button believes the Flames will make the playoffs mainly because he doesn't think Colorado can stay in the race.
Button said the Avalanche "look like they have hit the wall." He recalled seeing lags in their play that cost them dearly in a 4-3 loss to San Jose on Sunday, and those lapses grew longer against Anaheim in a 5-2 loss Wednesday night.
"They just look like they're getting exploited in so many different areas," Button said. "I will say whoever wins (Friday) night gets in, but if you're asking me today, I think Calgary gets in."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer