Flames Game Day
Game Day: Flames Fighting For Playoff Lives in Denver
The Calgary Flames are in Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche in a battle for a wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Calgary Flames (27-20-12) are fighting for their playoff lives against a direct competitor for one of the last spots in the Western Conference playoff picture when they meet the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche (32-19-5) on Saturday night in Denver.
Battling for a wild-card position is not what anyone expected for either team coming into this season. Both would have been better pre-season bets to win their respective divisions. But with the Avalanche dealing with injuries and a short summer and the Flames seeking to build chemistry with an overhaul of top players after the departure of Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, this is where they're at.
The Avs, though, have something the Calgary Flames have been looking for all year in superstar Nathan MacKinnon — a game-breaker.
"It's tough. You've gotta be ready," former Avalanche teammate Nikita Zadorov told reporters Saturday morning when asked about facing one of the league's deadliest playmakers. "He's a great skater, super skilled. Best player in the world.
"Hopefully those practices I had against him for five years will help me."
There were a lot of laughs. And no disrespect to Zadorov, who has been fairly good for the Flames this season as he's had to move up and down the defensive lineup, but if MacKinnon is out there against the third pairing too frequently, the results may not favour the visitors.
"You just have to stay above them. That's the easy answer. Stay above them and limit their time and space," said fellow Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson of the talented Avalanche offence. "If we get a chance to hit one of them. Try to be physical on them. A bunch of their star players don't like to get hit quite a bit. Play them hard, play them fair and stay above them."
MacKinnon may not like to be hit, but he's one of the most competitive guys in the NHL. That includes the practices Zadorov was talking about. Avalanche teammates are held to a high standard by the top centre.
"It's nice when you see him yell at somebody else, not you, right?" Zadorov said, drawing some laughs.
A Flames loss is no laughing matter, though, with the Avs ahead of them in the standings by three points with games in hand. It may be too early to say this is an actual must-win for Calgary — but it's close. They started their three-game road trip with a big win over the Arizona Coyotes but lost in overtime to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2.
Jacob Markstrom gets the start for the Flames after Dan Vladar played the first two, with Alexandar Georgiev expected to start again after playing in Winnipeg on Friday night.
Calgary Flames projected lineup
Dillon Dube – Elias Lindholm – Tyler Toffoli
Jakob Pelletier – Nazem Kadri – Jonathan Huberdeau
Andrew Mangiapane – Mikael Backlund – Blake Coleman
Milan Lucic – Trevor Lewis – Walker Duehr
Noah Hanifin – Rasmus Andersson
MacKenzie Weegar – Chris Tanev
Nikita Zadorov – Dennis Gilbert
Colorado Avalanche projected lineup
Artturi Lehkonen – Nathan MacKinnon – Valeri Nichushkin
Evan Rodrigues – J.T. Compher – Mikko Rantanen
Andrew Cogliano – Alex Newhook – Logan O’Connor
Matt Nieto – Denis Malgin
Devon Toews – Samuel Girard
Josh Manson – Bowen Byram
Kurtis MacDermid – Andreas Englund