Playoff hopes for Flames, Canadiens hinge on pivotal showdown

With a pair of wins over Montreal, Calgary has made things really interesting all of a sudden. Pat Steinberg has the details in the latest Flames Roundup for ATB Financial.

The momentum is undeniable.

The swagger is clear.

Keeping both going into Monday night’s season-defining matchup against the Montreal Canadiens has never been more important for the Calgary Flames.

Win and the playoff race stays very much alive for the Flames.

A win gets them within two points of the fourth-place Canadiens, who hold one game in hand.

A loss gets the autopsy on this season underway.

Although the Flames have won six of eight in the series and five of their last seven, grab a coin and flip it, as that’s what most of their games against one another have come down to this year.

The last four in particular have all been very much in doubt in the third period, with the losing team in every instance having hit at least one post or crossbar earlier on that could have changed the game’s complexion.

Looking to complete the three-game sweep against a Montreal team that has won once in its last four outings, the Flames have plenty to feel good about in their game, including the way they responded to a furious onslaught to open Saturday’s slugfest.

In the end, Johnny Gaudreau found a way to emerge the hero with two goals in a 5-2 win.

One night earlier, Sean Monanan scored the third-period winner in a 4-2 victory.

It bodes well that the Flames’ top players are back to making a difference again, including emerging star Andrew Mangiapane, who played a key role in both big wins.

“I think he’s done a lot of that throughout most of this season,” said Derek Ryan of Mangiapane’s knack for setting the tone with his tenacious, grinding attack.

“He’s had timely goals for us. He’s an emotional player. He’s a skilled player, a deservedly top-six player in the NHL. He’s just really come into his own in terms of his confidence, his goal-scoring ability, his playmaking ability. He’s an elite player in this league, in my opinion, and it’s a lot of fun to see him develop into that.”

Mangiapane is one of seven Flames players who have scored more than one goal against Montreal this season.

The only Hab to find the scoresheet more than once against Calgary is Tyler Toffoli, who has goals in three straight games, and five in the series.

He’ll need some help if the reeling Habs are able to stop their slide at this most crucial juncture.

Otherwise, the balance of the schedule favours Calgary in several ways, including the strength of opponents and the spacing between games.

Montreal will have 10 games to play in 17 nights, while the Flames’ remaining nine games will be played over 24 days, including four against Vancouver that will come after the Habs have concluded their schedule.

Sure would be interesting if those games mattered.

“It’s right there for us,” said Gaudreau following Saturday's win. “We play against Vancouver four more times and Montreal one more time. If we take care of ourselves and keep playing the way we have been playing the last few games, we have a real good shot to make a push here.”

On Monday, the Flames will be without the services of defenceman Noah Hanifin, who left Saturday’s game five minutes in after initiating an awkward hit next to the Flames bench.

He was helped off the ice and was under evaluation Sunday, until general manager Brad Treliving announced that Hanifin is set to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery.

It's a crucial blow for a team who loses the man that has logged more five-on-five minutes than any Flames defender this season.

Jake Allen will no doubt get the start for the rare 4:30 MT puck drop and will face Jacob Markstrom, who will unquestionably play every meaningful game left between now and the end of the year.

None are more meaningful than Monday, when the playoff fate of both teams could be sealed with a Montreal bounce back.

However, a Flames win makes things a whole lot more interesting in Calgary moving forward.

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