The Calgary Flames are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, but back-to-back wins over two of the NHL’s best teams have given them newfound confidence.
The Flames will try to avoid a letdown on Sunday afternoon when they meet the lowly Chicago Blackhawks for the fourth and final time this season.
Calgary (39-25-10) is eighth in the West with 88 points, five ahead of Colorado, and is trying for its third straight playoff appearance. The Flames registered just one win in six games from March 8-17, but seem to be back on track following victories over Detroit and Nashville—who are both in the hunt for the Presidents’ Trophy.
“Two wins like this would be big no matter who we’re playing,” Calgary leading scorer Jarome Iginla said, “but playing two of the top teams in the whole league, this is something to definitely build off of, to get us some momentum, get us feeling good about ourselves, and get us going on a streak again.”
Rhett Warrener scored his fourth goal of the season 1:27 into overtime to lift Calgary to a 3-2 win over the Predators on Thursday. The victory snapped an eight-game winning streak by Nashville in the series.
“I was surprised to even be out there,” said the defenseman, who has scored 23 goals in 11 NHL seasons.
Craig Conroy’s goal with less than four minutes remaining forced the extra session, and Alex Tanguay had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to five games. Miikka Kiprusoff made 23 saves Thursday and has allowed just three goals in Calgary’s consecutive wins.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner is 5-2-2 with a tie and a 2.34 goals-against average in 10 career games against the Blackhawks (27-38-9), and has been in goal for all three meetings with them this season. Chicago has taken two of those matchups, though, with both wins coming after regulation.
The Flames will need to play better away from home to split the season series as they have an NHL-low nine road wins. Calgary is opening a four-game trip that includes two straight contests in Minnesota and concludes with a matchup against Vancouver.
“We’ve got eight (games) left and a big one against Chicago,” Conroy told the team’s official Web site. “It’s just as hard against them and now we’ve got to focus towards that game.”
The Blackhawks have already been eliminated from the postseason and will miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. They suffered a 2-1 loss on Friday to Los Angeles, which is also out of the postseason picture.
Chicago has dropped four straight, getting outscored 16-6 in that span and thwarting just 16 of 25 power-play chances (64.0 percent).
“Some guys are fighting for contracts and jobs,” Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. “The most important thing is to play for pride. You’ve got to have it night in, night out.
“In a game, if you’ve got six, seven guys not going it’s tough. You can’t play two lines all night long.”
Patrick Sharp has scored in three straight games for the Blackhawks and has seven of his 18 goals this season in the last eight contests. Nikolai Khabibulin has lost his last three starts, posting a 4.63 GAA, but has been much better versus the Flames. He is 17-3-0 with two ties and a 2.10 GAA in 23 games against them, which is tied for his most wins versus any opponent.