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Eight Must-Win Games if the Calgary Flames Want to Steal a Wildcard Spot



Calgary Flames St. Louis Blues

Ah, that old familiar spot for the Calgary Flames.  

A 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night puts Calgary at 29-25-5.

Good for 9th place in the Western Conference. St. Louis kept it warm, but that place in the standings just shy of Western Conference Wildcard position has a Homer Simpson-esque, definable couch groove to it. 

Directly above them in the standings are the Kings and Predators – both five points up on Calgary with 68 points apiece. Both teams occupy the two Western Conference Wildcard spots.  

While February 2 has come and gone, the Groundhog Day vibes are all too familiar. The Flames finished ninth in the West last season and would go on to select 16th in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft – the latest first round selection of all non-playoff teams.  

That Groundhog Day feeling doesn’t stop there.


Discouraging Repetition

If you jump back to Feb. 28 of last season, the Flames were in virtually the same situation in the standings. A 27-21-13 record put Calgary in 9th place in the Western Conference – five points back on the two Wildcard placeholders: the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.   

With the odds against them and the fanbase actively expressing their lack of belief in the team regarding a postseason appearance, the Flames went on an 11-6-4 run (a .619 points percentage) to finish out the regular season.  

The result? Darryl Sutter’s crew climbed past Pittsburgh and Florida of the Eastern Conference, but only made up two points on their Western competitors in the playoff race. The group finished three points behind the bottom Western Conference Wildcard playoff spot held by the Winnipeg Jets.   

This all paints a dire picture regarding this season.  

A .619 points percentage likely won’t cut it to finish the season. The Calgary Flames will need a wealth of luck and an abundance of success to find themselves in a playoff spot at any point down the stretch.  

Then there is the likelihood of pending UFA defencemen Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev being moved. 

Expecting the Flames to go on a heater as they try replacing those minutes is a long shot. Currently on the roster but not drawing into the lineup are blueliners Dennis Gilbert and Jordan Oesterle – who are solid players in their own right, but don’t hold a candle to Tanev or Hanifin when it comes to on-ice product.

Another factor to consider is the Flames’ odd tendency to go on runs – for better or worse. Including their current four-game winning streak, the Flames have been a rollercoaster going back to Dec. 9.


Calgary Flames streaks since Dec. 9: 

Four losses
Three wins
Two losses
Three wins
Two losses
Four wins
Four losses
Four wins
Three losses
Four wins 

This current four-game winning streak is undoubtedly encouraging, but we must learn from the pattern at some point. Is another losing streak just around the corner? 

We’ve set the table and thoroughly played Debbie Downer on the topic of a Flames playoff appearance.

A Song for the Optimists

Regardless of what happens, the team isn’t giving up – and aren’t things simply more fun when you’re cheering for the underdog? Wasn’t that the prime aspect of the 2004 Calgary Flames Cinderella run that saw Calgary get within an overtime goal of winning the Stanley Cup? As a fan, whether you choose to cheer on the Flames and enjoy the ride or opt to be sour about it is up to you.

Today, let’s identify the must-win games of the remaining 23 on the schedule if Calgary wants to close the five-point distance on a playoff berth in 2024. 


Eight must-win games for the Flames to steal a Wildcard


1.) March 4 vs Seattle Kraken 

Even more bad news? The Flames only have four games remaining against Western Conference teams within proximity of a Wildcard spot: the Kings, Predators, Wild, Blues, and Kraken.  

The Flames will need to sweep those four-point games to not drop any lower in the standings.  


2.) March 26 vs Chicago Blackhawks 

Is there a greater frustration among Flames fans of late than losing to the Blackhawks? 

January 7 was a dark day for the organization. Calgary played host to Chicago and entered the game with an all-too-familiar .500 17-17-5 record. Chicago rolled into the Scotiabank Saddledome with only 11 wins in 39 games and a .308 points percentage. Good for 31st place in the NHL.  

President of Hockey Operations of the Calgary Flames, Don Maloney, had an intermission interview perilously scheduled with Ryan Leslie between the second and third.  

Why so perilous?  

Despite finishing last overall in 2022-2023, Chicago swept the season series on Calgary. That inability to beat the worst team in the league arguably cost the Flames a ticket to the 2023 playoffs. 

Calgary surrendered a 2-1 lead in the second and went down 3-2 off a Nikita Zaitsev goal minutes before Maloney went on TV. It was as close to a suicide pass as it comes for NHL executives. 

The Calgary Flames simply need to win that game. Outside noise will be deafening if they can’t. With a 1-0 win on Jan. 27, Calgary is 1-3-1 against the Blackhawks since October 2022. Chicago is on pace for their second consecutive last-place finish.


3.) March 28 vs St. Louis Blues 

Much like the Blackhawks, the Flames tend to suffer demoralizing losses to the Blues. March 28 will also be a four-point game. St. Louis sits one point behind the Flames with a game in hand.

Also similar to Chicago, the Flames are 1-3-1 against the Blues since the beginning of the 2022-2023 season. 


4.) March 30 vs LA Kings 

The last of the four-point games on the schedule. LA is currently on a two-game losing streak that may continue.

There is a case to be made that the Kings are who the Flames would need to steal a Wildcard spo,t given that the Predators are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the NHL. With a 4-1 win over the Senators on Tuesday night, Nashville is currently on a six-game winning streak. 


5.) April 6 vs Edmonton Oilers 

There is no denying that this season’s iteration of the Oilers would love to end the Flames’ chances at a postseason appearance. 

On the other side of the coin, Edmonton has been struggling of late. A 5-4-1 record in their last ten is notably worse than the Kings (6-4-0), Predators (7-3-0) and Flames (7-3-0).  

If the Oilers go on a slide: look. This game could have serious playoff implications.  


6.) April 16 vs Vancouver Canucks 

Much like the Oilers, you have to imagine that the Canucks players will be chomping at the bit to dash any remaining hope in Calgary. Especially since the Flames would most likely be playing the Canucks if they stole the last Wildcard spot. Vancouver currently sits in first place in the NHL with a 38-16-7 record.  

Expect big games from former Flames Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov, who were traded from Calgary earlier in the season.  


7 & 8.) April 9 & April 18 vs San Jose Sharks 

While several old narratives make up much of the hurdles standing in the path of Calgary seizing a Wildcard spot, a new trend may be surfacing.  

A 6-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 15 makes a case to rank in the top three when it comes to demoralizing Flames losses this season. Calgary plays the Sharks two more times, and if they can’t run a sweep on the 31st place team in the NHL – they don’t deserve to make the playoffs.  


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(AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)