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Calgary Flames

Flames Path To Playoffs Much Harder After Lackadaisical Loss to Blackhawks

The Calgary Flames stumbled with a chance to tie the idle Winnipeg Jets for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference thanks to some costly giveaways.



It's not over yet, but the Calgary Flames went from potentially controlling their own playoff destiny to needing to run the table and getting some help. 

That's what happens when top players don't play their best in the most meaningful game they've dressed for all season. Now that title belongs to Wednesday night's head-to-head battle against the Winnipeg Jets. That's essentially a win or get your garbage bag ready for next week scenario. 

With the devastating 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday — a top contender in the Connor Bedard lottery — the Calgary Flames failed to win their fifth straight and remain two points behind the Jets in the race for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. A win would have drawn them even with a chance to go ahead by one or two points with a victory in Winnipeg the following night. Now, not only to the Jets have a game in hand, they can pull four points up with the Flames only having three more games to earn points just in the hopes the Jets bottom out over their final few games to let them sneak in. 

"Obviously a tough one to lose," Calgary Flames winger Nazem Kadri told reporters post-game. "Not good enough. We're going to have to bounce back tomorrow."

If the Jets matchup is going to feel like an elimination game, the loss to the Hawks certainly lacked the feeling of a Game 6 with everything on the line. Kadri himself was lackadaisical a couple of times, and the Blackhawks turned both of his turnovers into goals. The first came late in the first period of a tie game when Kadri made a soft one-handed pass attempt behind his own net toward Troy Stecher. It was easily picked off by Boris Katchouk, who found Jujhar Khaira in front for the tap-in past goalie Jacob Markstrom. Later, after the Flames tied the game in the second period on a goal by Noah Hanifin, Kadri was beaten on a loose puck play in the neutral zone by Andreas Athanasiou in the third period and after a quick give-and-go, scored his second of the night to put the Blackhawks up 3-2. 

A minute and a half later and it was 4-2 Hawks when Austin Wagner took advantage of a muffed pinch by Rasmus Andersson, used the two-on-one as a decoy and beat Markstrom. The Calgary Flames couldn't draw even, even after Mikael Backlund scored his 18th of the year later in the third and head coach Darryl Sutter pulled his goalie earlier than usual. 

"Turnovers cost us the hockey game, for sure," Sutter said post-game. "Just to sum it up, when you can see the fatigue or you don’t have great legs, you've just got to keep your game really simple. Some of us didn’t manage the puck very well."

We'll talk about the fatigue and lack of legs and the youngsters like Jakob Pelletier and Matt Coronato still sitting in the press box another time, but the quote certainly addressed the goals we've already mentioned. 

"It’s unfortunate," said Kadri, who to some seemed aloof about his role in the loss. "They hopped on a couple bounces and took advantage of some mistakes and it ends up costing us."

Kadri echoed the simplicity mentioned earlier by Sutter when talking about his own mistakes, albeit a bit vaguely, starting with the second goal. 

"Umm, just turned it over. They made a nice play. Ice was getting a little chippy there at the end of the period. Gotta simplify our game and just can't make those mistakes."

Not at this time of year. Not in the situation they're in. 

"I mean … I thought we had urgency," said Andersson. "Maybe just sometimes you might want it too much. That might have happened tonight, when you try to make that play all the time instead of just letting it come to you. Frustrating.

"I think everyone definitely gave their best. Even if you give your best, you might not play your best. But I think everyone gave their best."