CALGARY – It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe that the Calgary Flames can stay in the playoff race much longer.
If they’re looking to prove otherwise, they sure have a funny way of showing it.
After turning a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 Faceplant against one of their closest playoff rivals on Tuesday, the Flames were once again mired in a three-game losing skid at a crucial juncture in their season.
“We’re in a tough spot right now where we have to stop the bleeding at home here,” coach Ryan Houska said.
“We dropped three straight home games.
“So, this is not an acceptable thing.
“We have two more games here at home before the (All-Star) break and we have to make sure they are the most important games.”
Sometimes it’s how you lose that’s most troubling.
[brightcove videoID=6345451225112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]
Between their horribly slow start, and a disastrous finish, the Flames found themselves up 3-1 against a Blues club that entered the game with a one-point lead in a tight wild-card race.
To get there, Mackenzie Weegar, Noah Hanifin and Yegor Sharangovich combined with the exciting Jacob Markstrom to get the players comfortable just before the second intermission.
Very convenient it seems.
With three minutes remaining in the frame, the Flames prepared to start a power play that saw Elias Lindholm get the equalizer against Weegar.
But when the veteran blueliner fumbled a Pugh move at the blue line, Brayden Schenn easily picked up the puck and took it down the length of the ice for his first career short.
The game is back.
“This is just bulls-eye — play by me,” Weegar said of the fourth breakaway his team gave up on a night filled with awareness issues for the Flames.
“It’s going to be a completely different game in that third period.”
[brightcove videoID=6345448979112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]
Instead, the table was set for Jordan Kyrou to tie the score early in the third period and Brandon Saad to win it with 48 seconds left on a shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off Jordan Oesterle and went into the post.
None of that was on Markstrom, whose club could have lost by three or more goals in the first 10 minutes.
Teams that can push for playoff spots don’t host a team that they fight by opening slowly and peppering their game with mental lapses.
“We wanted to play a certain way and we played the opposite way in the first ten minutes,” Houska said, admitting that he was upset from the beginning.
“There were some plays where I didn’t think we had enough composure when we needed it later in the game.
“Once we got to that 3-1 position, we did some good things, and then we gave them goals from there.
He added: “The shorthanded goal was difficult, and their third goal was even more difficult.”
The Huska’s inconsistency got them back to .500, thanks to a 1-3 start in a six-game homestand that ends with Johnny’s Blue Jackets in town on Thursday and the Bedard-less Blackhawks here on Saturday.
“These are huge games for us,” Hanifin said.
“We have to win these two games before the break to put ourselves in a better position before we come out of the break on this road trip.”
What awaits us after the break is an East swing through Boston and the three New York area teams.
By then, the Flames’ three-way tie for fifth in the wild-card race could easily land them in eighth place, ahead of only the Ducks, Falcons, and Sharks.
[brightcove videoID=6345458549112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]
“It’s tough, we knew what was at stake tonight, and that makes the situation we’re in now even more difficult,” said Weegar, whose club jumped in the standings against St. Louis to fall four points behind playoff qualifier Nashville. With three teams with postponed matches between them.
“There were a lot of things in our game that weren’t us.
“I thought we left that play in October and November.”
It’s funny that he mentions that, as this was the first sign that his playoff hopes this season were starting to fade.
This possibility is now beginning to become clearer.