CALGARY — A plucky Canadian team a win away from ending their NHL playoff drought and the defending Stanley Cup champions facing possible elimination provides Thursday’s game in Calgary with an intriguing double-barrelled plot.
A win and the Flames are in the post-season for the first time since 2009. Calgary can also end the Los Angeles Kings’ bid for back-to-back Cups — and a third in four years — with a victory in regulation time.
Calgary sits third in the Pacific Division at 95 points and two points up on Los Angeles.
A team like the Kings that earns a pair of Stanley Cups over a three-year span knows how to pull out wins at crucial times. Calgary’s roster is thinner on that type of experience.
“It’s going to be the toughest two points we have to get all season,” Flames forward Matt Stajan said Wednesday.
Playing their third road game in four days, Los Angeles arrives following with a 4-2 loss in Edmonton after thumping those same Oilers 8-2 at home a week ago.
According to their own stats, their chances of making the playoffs dropped from 40.3 per cent to 21.6 with the defeat. The Kings intend to draw on their extensive battle experience at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“This is the biggest game of our season by far,” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said. “This is basically a Game 7 for us. We’re going to treat it that way.
“I’m completely confident in this group. We’ve been in so many big games and come through in so many big games. This is another one.
“Even though we’ve done it in the past we can’t just assume we’re going to go out there and it’s going to happen. We’ve got to get back to the things we know we can do, play the way we have in the past and that’s how we’re going to have to win.”
Other post-season options were still in play for both clubs Wednesday. But if the Kings get a single point in Calgary, a Winnipeg Jets win over the Avalanche in Denver on Thursday eliminates Los Angeles from wild-card contention in the Western Conference.
Calgary posted a 3-1 record versus the Kings this season, including a pair of overtime wins. A pivotal point in the Flames’ season was their first game against the Kings in Los Angeles back on Dec. 22.
On an eight-game losing streak, Calgary trailed 3-0 late in the second when Johnny Gaudreau scored the first goal of a natural hat trick to tie the game.
Captain Mark Giordano’s overtime winner capped a stunning comeback. Calgary didn’t lose more than three in a row the rest of their season.
“It was maybe a turning point in our season,” Gaudreau said. “Going in to play the Kings in their barn, the Stanley Cup champions, to come out with a win there . . . I think it was a huge part of our success the rest of the year.”
The Kings gave up a point in that game they could use now, but Doughty wouldn’t give that loss more weight than others that have put Los Angeles in their precarious playoff position.
“That game, they got pretty lucky in that game to be honest,” he said.
“You can look back at that game and say it affected where we are in the standings right now, but there’s been so many games like that too that affected where we are.”
Los Angeles played backup Martin Jones in Edmonton, so Jonathan Quick will be rested for Thursday.
Jonas Hiller is familiar with many Kings’ shooters having played for Anaheim for seven seasons prior to his arrival in Calgary last summer.
“I’ve played those guys probably more than any other team,” the Flames goaltender said. “It definitely makes it a little different, especially knowing they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. They’ve been in the playoffs for the last few years all the time.
“It makes it a little special, but at the same time I definitely know it’s not going to be an easy game. They’re going to put everything out there.”