It’s all still pretty obvious how this is going to end for the Calgary Flames.
One loss in their final four games or a single point accrued by the Canadiens over Edmonton seals the deal.
However, following a 6-1 win by the Flames over Ottawa Sunday, southern Albertans now find themselves in a rather uncomfortable predicament: they’re hoping for a pair of Oilers wins.
In regulation, of course.
Yes, the fate of the Flames now rests in the hands of Edmonton’s two-game wrap-up against Montreal on Monday and Wednesday.
An Oilers sweep would set an intriguing stage for the Flames’ final four meetings with the Vancouver Canucks.
The odds of a Flames playoff position are longer than Zdeno Chara’s wingspan, but if the players and their remaining faithful are indeed taking these final, awkward stages of the season one game at a time, the next two sure are interesting aren’t they?
“Never thought we’d root for Edmonton but we need them to win these,” said Matthew Tkachuk with a sentence that couldn’t have been easy for him to utter. “I doubt I’ll watch it, but just hope they’ll win.”
Added Johnny Gaudreau, “I hope Connor can do his thing.”
Who knew it was possible for McDavid to become even more popular than he was after his dramatic four-point night Saturday to reach the century mark?
“If we lost we were going home, so it was an actual must-win,” added Tkachuk, who had a goal and three points, just like his linemate Gaudreau. “We put ourselves in a terrible position, to be honest. We just have to win and pray. That’s all we can do tomorrow.”
Neither Flames star would commit to watching the two Oilers games, preferring instead to check their phone for updates as the contests roll along.
They’ll both be hoping the Oilers don’t opt to sit any of their big guns for what amounts to two meaningless games for the North’s second-place finisher.
One wonders if McDavid’s milestone moment on the weekend might make it easier for coach Dave Tippett to give this year’s Hart Trophy winner a rest at some point.
You can bet the notion of aiding his team’s most hated rival in any way won’t be on his list of priorities when it comes to designing his next few rosters.
“I think there’s lots of people who cheer for Connor McDavid — I do too,” said Flames coach Darryl Sutter of the unique scenario facing his club.
Unlike six of their previous eight meetings in which the NHL’s youngest team ate Calgary’s lunch, the Flames got off to a good start Sunday and were rewarded for it with a first period breakaway conversion by Gaudreau.
Mikael Backlund, Tkachuk and Michael Stone all scored before the midway point of the middle frame to chase Anton Forsberg and help snap a four-game losing skid against an Ottawa team that played the biggest role in hampering the Flames’ playoff chances.
Mark Giordano and Dillon Dube rounded out the scoring in the third for a team that sat Juuso Valimaki for Oliver Kylington and gave Glenn Gawdin a fourth line centre role he used to record his first NHL point.
Despite winning just two of their first 15 games of the season, the upstart Senators are tied with the Flames for fifth in the division, having won six of the nine meetings against Calgary.
The Flames’ next game is Thursday, at home against a wilting Canucks club saddled with having to play the most gruelling of schedules following the club’s COVID-19 decimation.
If the Oilers can do the Flames a favour the Flames would suddenly control their own fate, albeit with the monumental task of having to win their remaining four games in a seven-day stretch.
During that time, the rest of the NHL’s playoff teams will have started their post-season battles.
Stay tuned to see if McDavid and his merry men will keep any of the Flames’ dreams alive or be content to put them out of their misery.