Not only do the Montreal Canadiens have a golden opportunity to greatly improve their playoff hopes, but a trio of games against the Calgary Flames provides them an opportunity to have that feeling of eliminating an opponent.
When the Canadiens (20-15-9, 49 points) face the Flames (19-23-3, 41 points) for the first of three consecutive games in Calgary on Friday, they sit fourth in the North Division, and with an eight-point edge over the Flames in the standings. The top four clubs in the division will earn a ticket into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Since Calgary has 11 games remaining, all three clashes are essentially must-wins for the Flames. Should the Canadiens win the mini-series of games Friday, Saturday and Monday, the Flames will be all but eliminated.
Having snapped a two-game skid with a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, the Canadiens know what opportunity is before them.
“I think our battle level has to come up a little bit, and we’ve got to be more hungry, because we know what’s at stake here,” said Canadiens forward Josh Anderson, who scored twice in Wednesday’s victory. “It’s getting into the last part of the season with a certain amount of games left, and we’ve got to start playing playoff hockey now. We can’t wait any longer.”
The Canadiens went into the Edmonton clash in a 2-6-0 slump during which they had scored only 12 goals.
“We have to look back on this game and continue to build on that performance,” Anderson added. “I thought we played a solid game, I thought everybody was engaged, and all four lines were rolling.”
Montreal’s No. 1 goaltender Carey Price is likely to miss all three games due to a concussion he suffered on Monday, but the Canadiens did receive a boost with defenseman Jon Merrill making his debut. Merrill, who was acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the trade deadline, skated on the third pairing and saw 11:32 of ice time with two shots on goal and three hits.
The Flames are rested but coming off a 4-2 loss to the cellar-dwelling Ottawa Senators on Monday and know they can’t afford too many more defeats.
“A little bit of hope, but we’ve gotta stop hoping and start winning hockey games,” forward Milan Lucic said.
The Flames have won four of six meetings with Montreal this season and know a trio of victories will put them in contention for a playoff spot, but the danger the players are being warned of is thinking too far ahead of Friday’s clash.
“You have to play the first game first,” coach Darryl Sutter said. “Pretty simple. It’s not anything other than that.”
Captain Mark Giordano was more forthcoming about the situation.
“Any time you get into these situations or games that mean so much, first off, you don’t want to put too much pressure (on yourself) and just want to play the game,” Giordano said. “Make mistakes by being too aggressive, if anything. … You can’t put so much pressure on yourself as an individual that you can’t execute properly.
“We’re looking at them as basically do-or-dies,” Giordano added. “When you’re playing a team directly ahead of you head-to-head, it’s obviously even more important. It’s an opportunity for us to get right back in it if we can take care of business, so that’s the way we’re looking at it.”
–Field Level Media