Having won the first two of their three final meetings with the visiting Montreal Canadiens, the Calgary Flames head into Monday evening’s series finale with a golden opportunity.
The Flames (21-23-3, 45 points) can pull within two points of the Canadiens (20-17-9, 49 points) in the chase for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.
“The next game going on the whole year is going to be our biggest game of the year,” Flames defenseman Chris Tanev said of the team’s nine remaining games. “Next game against Montreal will be the biggest game … and the next game after that against Edmonton is going to be the biggest game, and so on. We’ve got to be ready to battle and play hard.
“You can’t look too far in this situation. We have to win every battle, every shift, every period, every game to get into the playoffs.”
The Flames have won six of the eight clashes with Montreal this season. By winning the first two of this three-game set, including a 5-2 victory Saturday, Calgary has closed the gap, but the job is far from done.
“We’re nowhere close to where we want to be, so we can’t get our hopes up too, too much,” forward Johnny Gaudreau said. “It’s right there for us. We play against Vancouver four more times, Montreal one more time. If we take care of ourselves and play the way we’ve been playing the last few games, I think we have a good shot to make a push here.”
It appears the Flames will be forced to make one switch. Defenseman Noah Hanifin sustained an upper-body injury early in Saturday’s game, which forced the remaining five blueliners to take a bigger role. He was not at practice Sunday, according to Sportsnet 960, which suggests he won’t be available Monday night.
The Canadiens have one game in hand on Calgary, as they look to break out of a 3-8-0 swoon that’s put their playoff position in doubt.
“It’s the last game of the season against them. It’s another playoff game. We need to be at our best,” Montreal coach Dominique Ducharme said.
The Canadiens and Flames also must be wary of the Vancouver Canucks, who are eight points behind the fourth spot but are suddenly playing well after returning from their long COVID-19 pause, and they have five games in hand on Montreal and six on Calgary.
As much as the Flames have put pressure on them, the Canadiens control their circumstance, and they can’t forget that.
“We win the next game, we’re ahead by six points, and then we go from there,” defenseman Jeff Petry said. “We control our own destiny. Our fate’s in our hands. We play and we execute and get the wins. It’s in our hands.”
That said, the Canadiens are facing more roster moves. They are already without No. 1 goalie Carey Price (concussion) and forward Brendan Gallagher (hand), while forward Jonathan Drouin missed the last two games due to illness, Paul Byron sat out Saturday due to a lower-body injury, and Tomas Tatar wasn’t able to finish the game.
Regardless of when any or all of those players return to action, the Canadiens are aware of the situation.
“It’s that time of the year. I think everybody knew that it was going to come down to certain teams fighting for position,” forward Tyler Toffoli said. “It’s not just us fighting for positions, it’s teams fighting for first and second and third. We’ve got to find a way, we’ve got to regroup, and Monday is a big match.”
–Field Level Media