If their razor-thin margin for error to make the Stanley Cup playoffs wasn’t enough to motivate the Calgary Flames, Thursday’s road clash comes against their biggest rivals.
The Flames (21-24-3, 45 points) have a faint shot at catching the Montreal Canadiens for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division standings but must come up with a win over the Edmonton Oilers.
The Flames are six points behind the Canadiens with eight games remaining. Calgary’s next two games come against an Oilers team that has won five of eight meetings this season.
“At this point, I don’t think it really matters (who we’re playing),” Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson said. “We all know what position we’re in. We’re playing for our lives, so we’ve got to go out and play a really good game (Thursday) to win the game and we’ll take it from there.”
Edmonton (29-16-2, 60 points) returns home after claiming a 3-1 road win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday. The Oilers are on an 11-3-2 roll that’s put them ahead of the Jets for second place.
The Flames must regroup from Monday’s 2-1 loss to Montreal, a defeat that took the wind out of their sails after winning two straight home clashes with the Canadiens.
“It was a hard loss and guys were pretty disappointed, upset … but it’s a new day, the sun’s up and guys are in here ready to get going and are excited to win some games,” center Mikael Backlund said. “It’s the Battle of Alberta. We know we’re playing for our lives, so we’ve got to come in here with a positive attitude and see what we can do.”
The Flames claimed a 5-0 win the last time they faced the Oilers on April 10, so the hosts will be looking for revenge.
Plus, their leader, Connor McDavid, is arguably playing the best hockey of his superstar career. McDavid, who is running away with the scoring title having already collected 84 points, has netted three or more points in four consecutive games. He’s riding a five-game point streak in which he’s collected 15 points with five goals and 10 assists.
“It’s pretty amazing,” forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said of McDavid. “We know how special of a player he is, but to be able to do it every night is another story. He’s having a special season.”
So are the Oilers, who are seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the top spot in the division with nine games remaining. Edmonton has two games in hand on the Maple Leafs and a much easier schedule the rest of the way.
That said, coach Dave Tippett is more concerned about how his team is playing heading into the playoffs instead of where they finish in the standings.
“We’re trying to get our team ready. If we play and continue to build our team game the way we hope, the standings will take care of ourselves,” Tippett said. “We have to make sure our game continues to improve.”
Even so, the next two games are a huge opportunity to get a taste of eliminating an opponent, which will be even better when it’s their biggest rival.
“We know every time we play them, it’s going to be a good battle,” Nugent-Hopkins said of the upcoming Calgary clashes. “This is no different. We know what positions they’re in and have to prepare for that.”
–Field Level Media