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Flames and Avalanche Making it Interesting out West

The roles are somewhat reversed, but it's still as if the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames have gone back in time a few years, as the two currently battle it out for the last playoff spot in the National Hockey League's Western Conference this spring.

It was the 2006-2007 season, and Calgary beat out Colorado for the last playoff spot by a single point (96 to 95). If you trust Wikipedia (God knows I do!!!!), the 95 points made the Avalanche the team with the most points in NHL history to miss out the playoffs (just kidding about the Wikipedia part, but, maybe, just maybe, it's right about this).

In any case, that dubious distinction is not what was so notable with regards to the Avalanche's failed attempts to make the post-season that year. What was? With the Flames having played 78 of their games and possessing a seven-point lead over the Avalanche (also having played 78 games), Calgary proceeded to lose all of their remaining regular season games (including the first in that streak against the Avalanche). Were it not for a second-to-last-regular-season-game loss to the Nashville Predators (during which Nashville scored two goals in the third period, including an empty netter, to seal the 4-2 victory), Colorado would have made it instead of Calgary.

Of note, prior to that loss, Colorado had won their previous four games to get to that point. Also, that last meaningless game of the regular season? It was also against Calgary, and Colorado beat them 6-3. Still, Calgary was able to breathe a sigh of relief en route to facing the Detroit Red Wings (and losing) in the first round.

Currently, it's Colorado that is on the downtrend, going 1-6-1 in its last eight games, including four straight and two losses to Calgary. Calgary, meanwhile, has been able to shrug off the stench of suck that had been on them as recently as March 27, when the Flames got shut out 5-0 by the offensive powerhouse that is the Boston Bruins.

Since then, the Flames have beaten the NHL-leading Washington Capitals, the upstart Phoenix Coyotes, and, the Avalanche. The Flames have games left against the Chicago Blackhawks, the San Jose Sharks, the Minnesota Wild, and the Vancouver Canucks. The Avalanche still have the Sharks, Canucks, the Edmonton Oilers, Blackhawks, and the Los Angeles Kings to play.

On paper, it seems as though the Avalanche have the advantage, having played one less game up to this point. However, on paper, they are also the worse of the two teams.

For whatever reason, the Avalanche, a rag-tag group of youngsters and unproven veterans, has only recently begun to start ungluing itself from the season-long unity it had displayed all season long.

Tell me if you have honestly heard of these players before this season (or at all): Chris Durno, T.J. Galiardi, Matt Hendricks, David Jones, Ryan O'Reilly, Kevin Porter, Brandon Yip, Kyle Cumiskey, and Ryan Wilson? Well, they all play for the Avalanche, and a lot of them actually play pretty big roles, with Galiardi actually playing on the Avalanche's top line with Chris Stewart (who has also come out of relatively nowhere to post pretty impressive numbers this season) and Paul Stastny.

And even though it can be argued that the team has been playing over their collective heads up until this point, this recent cold streak originates in part with the play of goalie Craig Anderson. Anderson, who has played for the Stanley-Cup-contending Blackhawks – when they sucked, risks missing out on his first playoffs after performing so admirably for most of the season, his first as a legitimate number-one goaltender. In his last seven games, he is 1-5-1, with a 4.09 goals against average and a .857 save percentage. Even when he was the Florida Panthers's backup, his numbers weren't so bad (they were quite good, actually, but that's beside the point).

When the Avalanche finished third-last in the league last year, it was kind of assumed that they would suck for a pretty long time after drafting Matt Duchene. Somehow, the team's progress accelerated to the point that it actually threatened the Canucks for a division title this year, only to perhaps succumb to reality a bit too late. Are we, as fans, in the midst of witnessing a meltdown (of the Avalanche, pardon the pun) of monumental proportions? Likely.

The Flames have momentum on their side, and, while the Avalanche have one more game to play and also hold the number-of-wins tiebreaker, that kind of becomes meaningless if the Avalanche continue to struggle and the Flames are able to surpass them, which all signs point to happening.

Bold Predictions:
The Flames will:
Beat the Blackhawks,
Lose to the Sharks,
Lose to the Wild,
Beat the Canucks.

The Avalanche will:
Lose to the Sharks,
Beat the Canucks,
Lose to the Oilers,
Lose to the Blackhawks,
Lose to the Kings.

Final standings: Flames with 93 points, Avalanche with 91.