A game I considered the Flames' biggest of the season so far ended in heartbreak tonight as a 2-1 loss at home to the league-best Sharks. A couple weeks ago, I might have shrugged off this loss with optimism due to the way the Flames played against the league's best team, but now the Flames have just six games left and on the verge of completing a disastrous collapse. Tonight could be the last night of the season that the Flames are on top of the Northwest Division; they only barely still control their own destiny.
I have to give credit to the Sharks for tonight's game. They played a perfect road game and showed why they are on top of the league. Their puck-possession trap game frustrated the Flames, and Evgeni Nabokov was excellent, making several superb saves in the third period. However, for every game there is usually as much reason for one team winning as there is for the other team losing. Jarome Iginla scored his first goal in seven games but it was a quite lucky one – a partial screen and weak goal allowed by Nabokov; it went off the goalie's glove and in. Iggy had just two other shots and two more misses, including one where he was set up in the slot off a pretty passing play in the second. Meanwhile, the man brought in to help Iggy on the top line and supposedly provide the final piece of the puzzle continued his cold streak. Olli Jokinen had five shots on goal but was not that much of a factor. On the winning goal in the second period, he was caught standing around and failed to do anything to prevent Jonathan Cheechoo from tipping it in from well out. Admittedly, expecting Olli to keep up his incredible, immediate post-deadline pace was somewhat unrealistic but neither he nor Iginla are anywhere right now, and as much as I'm loving the play of Jamie Lundmark and Eric Nystrom, the Flames obviously NEED their top guys to produce. (Mike Cammalleri was the best of the Flames' big guns tonight.)
This loss means that the only way the Flames can control their own destiny and win the division by themselves is simply by winning all six remaining games. Their remaining games are a back-to-back on Thursday and Friday against Minnesota and Dallas, then another one on Monday and Tuesday against L.A. and Vancouver (a game that could still decide the division) then a season-ending home and home with the Oilers. On paper, this isn't a very tough schedule because Vancouver is the only one of those teams currently in the playoffs. However, the Flames' record on back-to-backs is terrible, and so I'm not overly optimistic. If they win tomorrow against the Wild and formally leapfrog the Flames, I may be ready to concede defeat. The Flames need some combination of either a 4-0-2 record in their last six and a 5-2-0 or worse record by Vancouver. Tonight's loss was especially depressing because it would not have been so bad were the Flames not on the verge of such a terrible collapse for the division title. On Thursday, they could well find themselves in fifth place. Do I need to say any more?
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Written by Alex Hamilton