The schedule over the final seven games of the season for the Calgary Flames is quite odd. They finish their year on a four game road trip, and before that play a three game homestand to conclude their schedule at the Scotiabank Saddledome. That three game set begins tonight as the Flames will play their final game this season with the Minnesota Wild (7 pm, Sportsnet 960 and Sportsnet West).
This will be the final game these two teams play as Northwest Division rivals, as Minnesota will leave Calgary’s grouping after this season to join a division which suits them better from a geographical standpoint. The Wild have played in the Northwest since joining the league to start the 2000-2001 season and have made the playoffs three times in their history, with one division title over that same span.
With Detroit’s win yesterday, Calgary now has an elimination number of 2.
The lines above are nothing but a reasonable guess as to what we might see tonight, as combinations seem to be as much of a moving target as anything these days. One thing is for sure: Ben Hanowski will make his NHL debut. One of two prospects acquired from Pittsburgh in the deal that sent Jarome Iginla to the Penguins, Hanowski finished his college career late last week and signed a contract shortley thereafter. Hanowski is 22 years old and is coming off a year where he put up 14 goals and 31 points in 37 games at St. Cloud State.
With Hanowski’s insertion into the lineup, Calgary will be forced to make a roster move, so Ben Street’s emergency recall will come to an end. There’s a good chance he could be back with the team on their season ending four game road trip; Abbotsford’s season ends on Saturday and the Flames will have unlimited recall potential from that point forward. Calgary returned Akim Aliu to the AHL yesterday after his emergency recall concluded; he went down because Glencross is able to return to the lineup after missing Saturday with the flu.
Joey MacDonald gets the start in net for a third consecutive game, which has raised a few eyebrows. Head Coach Bob Hartley says that while Miikka Kiprusoff is a tad banged up (hyperextended arm), MacDonald is getting the start mainly because of the merit system. He’s done the job for two consecutive games and has more wins than any other Flames goalie this year, with seven.
While March was a very good month for Minnesota, going 11-4 in the third month of 2013, the month of April has been the complete opposite. March saw the Wild move into top spot in the Northwest Division. April, on the other hand, has seen their shot at a division title fade away thanks to a run of 1-5-1 since the month began. With 47 points, their playoff position is tenuous at best right now.
The last time Minnesota played Calgary, it was February 26th and the Wild were the second lowest scoring team in the NHL, averaging 2.06 goals per game. In the month plus since, they’ve risen into a tie for 20th in league scoring averaging 2.43 goals per game. So, while they aren’t the highest scoring team in the NHL, they certainly have seen their scoring prowess get a little better over the last 20 games or so.
Cullen returns to the lineup tonight after missing six games with a lower body injury. Mikael Granlund will sit out as a result. Niklas Backstrom sounds to get the start in net for Minnesota, his 35th start of the season.