Any fantasies people may have had of Olli Jokinen somehow continuing his infamous no-playoff-games streak officially were put to rest tonight, as the Flames clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 win in Dallas. The win, and Vancouver's shootout loss to the Ducks, means that the Flames at least for the moment are on top of the Northwest Division again (though they are tied in points with Vancouver, they have the advantage due to more wins).
The game itself wasn't much to write home about (despite being the last $15 pay per view game of the season (though I actually paid for it this time – well my dad did). It was fairly typical of a Flames-Stars game with generally limited chances and tight checking. Though they were facing an injury-riddled, reeling Dallas team due soon to be mathematically eliminated, there were still positives to be drawn from this game for the Flames. The most important thing is that, despite the low score, they got a good effort from their top guys. On the day that the Calgary Herald published a series of letters from angry Flames fans expressing their disappointment in him, Dion Phaneuf had two assists and the Flames did not have to pay for his lack of defense. Jarome Iginla tied the game in the first with another lucky goal, but hey, the Flames need all the luck they can get. Jokinen and Cammalleri were nonfactors again though. The negatives in this game were that the Flames had to be bailed out in the third by Miikka Kiprusoff (stopping ten shots while the Flames only mustered one at the other end). The worst thing that happened to the Flames this game was Robyn Regehr leaving the game in the second period and not returning after missing a huge hit in the corner and smashing into the glass. It looked like it could be a serious issue, but Mike Keenan said he was day to day after the game. With Cory Sarich already out with an ankle, a long term injury to the Flames' best defenseman would be absolutely devastating. The news that Regehr's injury was a simple day to day one was more of a relief and made me feel better than realizing after the game that Calgary had clinched a playoff berth.
I did not even realize the Flames had clinched until it was mentioned on Sportsnet Connected after the game. It's certainly a far cry from 2004, when the Flames' playoff-clinching victory in game no. 80 vs. Phoenix was front page news and automatically made the season a success. The last two years, the Flames have backed into the playoffs and only mathematically clinched when the teams behind them lost, so it's somewhat of a better omen to clinch on your own accord. (Of course, losing 8 of their last 13 on their way to clinching isn't a good one.) However, the win tonight was a game the Flames should have won with more ease. Clinching is something they should have done some time ago. Obviously, another first round exit is absolutely unacceptable. But in the midst of this collapse, and the Flames' crucial final five games to try and secure home ice advantage, I am really not sure either what I expect of this team in the playoffs or what I would be disappointed with (aside from the aforementioned first round exit.) Still, this marks the fifth straight season the Flames have made the playoffs. There have been many criticisms of Darryl Sutter, some of them rightful, and I myself have been skeptical at times. But still, even the most jaded critic has to give Sutter some credit for making the Flames a consistent playoff team, even if the previous three seasons have resulted in thoroughly mediocre playoff performances.
Friday night, the Flames look to complete a six game season series sweep of the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota, while also looking to win both games of a back-to-back for only the second time all season. The first time was in December against St. Louis and, coincidentally, Minnesota.
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Written by Alex Hamilton