Squint as hard as you can, if you’d like, to see how the Calgary Flames could still navigate their way through to a playoff miracle.
But in doing so, don’t overlook the most significant obstacle in their way. No, not the three-game series at home against Montreal starting Friday. The bigger concern should be the last of the nine games the Flames still have to play against Ottawa.
After all, the Senators are a massive part of what will ultimately cost the Flames any chance they may have had at playoff spot.
Instead of keeping pace with every other Canadian team (other than Montreal) that has stockpiled points against the NHL’s youngest outfit, the Flames keep losing ground against them.
Heck, the Canucks, Oilers and Jets went a combined 20-2 against Ottawa.
A 4-2 loss Monday to the rebuilding Sens marked the Fames’ fourth setback in a row against Ottawa, and their sixth loss in eight meetings.
Given how much every other team in the division not named the Canadiens beat up on the Sens, it’s evident to this point the division’s worst team is what cost Calgary its season.
Asked how a team that lost 13 of its first 15 games has managed to dominate the Flames, Elias Lindholm suggested the 16-26-4 club is a “good team.”
“I don’t know why everyone is thinking they can just put on the skates and win against some teams in this league,” said Lindholm, who joined Michael Stone as Calgary’s only scorers.
“They’re working hard and have a lot of skill and a lot of young players. Obviously all of these games they’ve been better than us and deserve to win. For us chasing payoffs it just makes it harder on ourselves. It’s not good enough.”
By the time the Senators return for their last matchup with Calgary, on May 9, the Flames will likely be mathematically eliminated from the race, perhaps by both Vancouver and the fourth-place Canadiens.
Heck, there’s still a chance the 28th-ranked Senators can catch the Flames, as they sit just five points back.
Three hours up the road, the Oilers came back to beat Montreal Monday in a game that also saw the visitors lose Carey Price to injury once again. The Habs still sit six points up on Calgary with two games in hand, setting up this weekend’s series, which the Flames have no choice but to sweep with just 11 games remaining.
“Montreal lost, I think I saw, so still a little bit of hope,” said Milan Lucic, whose pre-game presentation of a silver stick marked the highlight of the night.
“But we’ve got to stop hoping and start winning some games.”
Asked if their second straight loss was due to poor execution or a lack of desperation, Lucic was clear.
“I think it definitely is execution – probably 90 per cent of the guys, we’re not finishing enough of the chances we’re creating,” said Lucic.
“It cost us the game in Montreal and we had some we missed tonight.”
There weren’t a whole lot of good chances in the final nine minutes after Stone’s point blast closed Ottawa’s lead to 3-2.
Special teams and giveaways were the difference on this night, as Calgary’s power play was flat in two crucial third-period opportunities and the Sens got a short-handed goal by Connor Brown to break a 1-1 tie in the final minute of the second period before Josh Norris’ third-period power-play goal.
Brown’s goal was made possible by a Noah Hanifin giveaway at the Senators’ blue line, Brady Tkachuk’s game-opener came via a Juuso Valimaki cough-up, and Brown’s empty-netter came after he pickpocketed Matthew Tkachuk as Jacob Markstrom raced to the bench.
“There are three or four guys — good players — that turned the puck over several times tonight,” said Darryl Sutter, who said the two third-period power plays required faster puck movement.
“Passing too slow. The same guys that turned the puck over all night are the same guys who turned it over on the power play for the most part. You can’t pass the puck into the net, you’ve got to shoot it into the net. We’ve got guys that didn’t have a shot on goal and probably five or six turnovers.
"Generally that’s the difference in the hockey game, and it certainly was tonight.”
The Senators had half of the 18 turnovers the Flames had, with Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk leading the way with five and four, respectively. Valimaki’s nightmarish evening saw him toss it away three times.
It all added up to yet another giveaway against a team that has almost half its 16 wins against the Flames.
Lucic’s 1,003rd game started with all his teammates wearing his jersey No. 17 in warmup, followed by a pre-game ceremony that saw the club add to the silver-stick tradition by making three silver-played mini-sticks for Lucic’s young kids.
Sporting customized jackets and bedazzled shoes designed by Lucic’s wife Brittany commemorating dad’s milestone, the kids were delighted to be on the ice for the celebration.
“It was nice,” said Lucic, who also received a commissioned painting of his journey, a Rolex watch and a charitable donation made in his family’s name.
“The family was very excited to be back at the rink. The kids ask me all the time if they can come to a game or, even come to a practice, so they were thrilled to be here tonight. It was cool to share that moment with them. I guess that’s the only positive out of tonight.”
The ceremony included a video in which congratulations were sent by Claude Julien, Jarome Iginla, Zdeno Chara, Mark Giordano and Gregory Campbell, who said the Bruins wouldn’t have won the Cup without Lucic.