With just 14 regular season games remaining in the Calgary Flames’ schedule, more attention is starting to be paid towards the playoffs. While Darryl Sutter and his players publicly express that until they’re in the playoffs, they’re not, the reality of the situation is that first place in the Pacific Division is theirs for the taking barring a late-season stumble.
Assuming the Flames do lock in the top seed for the division, they’ll be facing the team in the first wild card spot, as the Colorado Avalanche will easily win the conference to face the second wild card team. Chances are the Flames will be matching up against a Central Division team. With that said, who would you want to Flames to face the most? We asked, you answered.
Calgary’s first round playoff scenarios
As mentioned, realistically by season’s end the Flames should be tops in the Pacific. Also realistically, a Central Division team should be in the first wild card spot. That said, it is possible that the Flames face a Pacific team to open the playoffs.
The first scenario is that one of the Los Angeles Kings or Edmonton Oilers go on a hot streak while Calgary goes into free fall to result in a Pacific division second versus third seed matchup. It’s quite unlikely at this point however, as Calgary holds a comfortable lead.
The second scenario is that somehow the Vegas Golden Knights or Vancouver Canucks sneak into the first wild card spot to secure a series with the Flames. The Canucks’ playoff hopes are quickly evaporating given their recent struggles, so it really does just leave Vegas sneaking into the first wild card spot as a potential outcome.
However, the sum total on the odds of any of these events happening is around 14% per HockeyViz.com. The other 86% sees a Central Division opponent in Calgary’s horizon. Here’s the full breakdown again from HockeyViz.
Using the same odds from HockeyViz, this week’s poll looks into who Flames fans would most like to Calgary faceoff against in the first round. Listed in the same order of likelihood, the Flames may be facing the Nashville Predators (~30%), the St. Louis Blues (~24%), or the Dallas Stars (~24%). There’s also the off chance that the Minnesota Wild or Winnipeg Jets sneak into the first wild card spot instead, but that’s sitting at fairly low odds.
Simply put, there are essentially three very likely options for Calgary’s first round opponent—all other matchups requiring the stars to align from now until season’s end.
Calgary versus Nashville
It seems as though these two teams are destined for overtime games whenever they play one another. This season was no different. In their first and only meeting so far this season, the game was sent to overtime with the Predators coming out victorious.
Interestingly, the Flames have played every other team at least twice—including finishing all games against Eastern Conference teams with their last game being on March 18 versus the Buffalo Sabres. However, the regular season schedule slots the Flames versus Predators for Game 77 and 80. Facing off that late in the season, it very well might be a playoff preview.
The Flames were the far superior team when they first faced off in Game 9, but Juuse Saros was the X-factor in the game. Taking a look at 5v5 score- and venue-adjusted stats as well as all situation stats from NaturalStatTrick.com, here’s how Calgary fared in their first game versus Nashville.
It was a game the Calgary should have won, but were let down by a missed penalty call that could have had them on a 4v3 power play, and instead they managed a single point after a dominant performance. In fact, the game was one of Calgary’s most lopsided losses this season in terms of severely outplaying an opponent without getting the victory.
If anything, this bodes well for the Flames if they end up facing the Predators in the first round. Calgary is very much a systems-driven team and if they can stick to said system, they have a great chance of winning the first series against Nashville.
Calgary versus St. Louis
This season series coincidentally concluded last night in upsetting fashion. The Flames lost a close one that saw four goals scored in the final two minutes of the game. Unfortunately three of them for St. Louis which locked up the regular season series victory for the Blues. The Flames had previously beaten the Blues with a 7–1 victory, only for the Blues to answer back handing the Flames a 5–1 setback.
Over three games, the sample size is a bit more evaluative than the sole game versus Nashville. These are Calgary’s stats in all three games versus St. Louis:
Not unlike their game versus Nashville, the Flames have been dominant over the Blues. It’s unfortunate that the series went to the Blues as that’s not indicative of the on-ice performances of either team. Over the course of three games that included 5–1 and 6–4 defeats, the Flames still have a huge advantage in the metrics.
Come playoff time, the underlying play of a team will be much more important across a seven-game series. It should be alright for the Flames if they end up matching up against the Blues. If anything, they’ll be hungrier to prove the regular season series loss was a fluke.
Calgary versus Dallas
The Flames lost once in overtime to the Stars in the early portions of the season, and then mounted an insane third period rally for their first comeback victory of the season that was the second win in their lengthy 10-game win streak. The Flames will play host to the Stars one last time in Game 78 later this month.
Over the first two games, here’s how Calgary stacked up:
Once again, they were the better team than their opponent, but they weren’t quite as dominant as they were against the Predators or Blues. It’d arguably be a tougher matchup given the regular season results. However, a lot of replies in the poll said they voted for a series against Dallas for nothing more than getting revenge for the 2020 playoffs. Definitely a fair reason to root for this series happening.
Calgary versus other
While other matchups are enticing, the Flames have short odds to end up in these series. There would be plenty of good storylines no matter the opponent. If the Flames play the Golden Knights, would they finally get a victory in the T-Mobile Arena? Or would a Battle of Alberta be a dream/nightmare series as a first round matchup?
This odds are all slim, and the vast majority of fans want the Flames to faceoff against the Predators or Stars instead.
However, we’ll look at 5v5 SVA stats against all opponents just to get a better idea of how these less likely matchups may pan out.
At a high level, the Flames look a lot better against the other three teams than any of these five. There’s at least one flaw against these opponents other than against the Wild. The Flames are flat out not good against the Kings, don’t score against the Jets, can get outplayed by the Golden Knights, and of course don’t win games they should against the Oilers.
Let’s just say Calgary should be glad they have low odds to meet any of these teams. However, on-ice performances from the regular season won’t carry much weight for the team at all, so they aren’t exactly hoping for any single opponent over another.
Playoffs are fast approaching
No matter the opponent, the Flames will be laser-focused on their tasks at hand: get into the playoffs, win one game at a time, win one series at a time, and so forth. That’s the mantra the Flames have instilled among themselves, and they view themselves as underdogs despite their position in the standings. Until they get past the first round—and knock on wood go for a deep run—they’ll continue to see themselves as having accomplished nothing yet.
They won’t care about who their opponent is in the first round. The team’s alluded a few times, particularly Sutter, that they just need to avoid the Avalanche. Thankfully that won’t be happening when the puck drops for first round for Flames playoff hockey in the Saddledome.
What would you like to see the Flames faceoff against in the first round of the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
Photo by Terence Leung/NHLI via Getty Images