Flames’ James Neal a healthy scratch for Game 5 vs. Avalanche

Eric Francis and Dan Murphy discuss Calgary’s heartbreaking overtime losses.

The Calgary Flames are in must-win mode and since forward James Neal has been underperforming, he will be a healthy scratch for Saturday’s Game 5 showdown with the Colorado Avalanche.

Neal had been playing alongside Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett but is being replaced with forward Austin Czarnik as head coach Bill Peters tinkered with his line combos Friday morning.

Czarnik has yet to suit up in the playoffs, but the 26-year-old registered 18 points in 54 regular-season games with Calgary – just one fewer point than the 19 Neal recorded in his 63 games.

“When [Czarnik] has come into the lineup, he’s given us an element of skill in the offensive zone,” Peters told reporters in Calgary. “We want to hang onto pucks and spend some time down there. Any time you bring a guy in, somebody’s got to come out right? They’re tough decisions. Spent a lot of time on it over the past two days and we think it’s the right move to make at this time.

“We have to play our best game here tonight, so we’re putting the best foot forward, in our opinion.”

After blanking the Avs 4-0 in Game 1, the Flames have dropped three in a row and must stave off elimination at home on Friday night.

Two of Calgary’s three losses have been in overtime and Neal was criticized for coasting on the backcheck and failing to get his stick in the passing lane on Mikko Rantanen’s Game 4 winner.

Neal signed a five-year, $28.75-million contract with the Flames in free agency but did not live up to his $5.75-million salary cap hit, scoring a career-low seven goals and averaging a career-low 14:57 of ice-time per game.

Flames captain Mark Giordano added: “You never want to see any of your teammates go through anything like that.”

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