Los Angeles Kings (-130) at Calgary Flames (+118, 5 o/u)
A lot of questions surrounding the Western Conference playoff race could be answered tonight when the Los Angeles Kings (39-26-15, 93 pts) travel north to face the Calgary Flames (44-29-7, 95 pts) at the Scotiabank Saddledome (9:00 PM Eastern).
The Kings are currently two points back of the Flames for the final playoff berth in the Pacific Division and three back of Winnipeg for the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. A loss tonight – either in regulation or OT – would make L.A. the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs in eight years (2006 Carolina Hurricanes).
The Kings have watched their playoff hopes dwindle during their current road trip. The team dropped the first two on the three-game jaunt (2-1 in a shootout vs. Vancouver, and 4-2 vs. Edmonton), setting up the must-win scenario for the third and final game.
“We just have to win our next game and go from there,” Kings forward Marian Gaborik said. “We are obviously disappointed to be in this position, but we have to go to Calgary and win. That’s all there is to it.”
Calgary, meanwhile, has won four of its last five games; unlike the Kings, they took care of business against the Western Conference’s bottom feeders, the Edmonton Oilers, on Saturday (4-0) and followed that up with a win (3-2) over the Coyotes on Tuesday.
Many pundits have been predicting an L.A. resurgence late in the year – just like the one that vaulted them into a playoff position late last season – and Flames coach Bob Hartley knows his squad will have its hands full.
“We all know what’s at stake,” said Hartley. “There’s a great team coming in, Stanley Cup champs in our building. … We’re going to go out there; we’re going to play our own game and we’re on a mission. We know what we need to do.”
In the trends, the Flames are 22-13-5 at home on the year, while the Kings are just 15-17-8 on the road. Head to head, Calgary won the first three meetings of the season, but the Kings took the most recent (5-3).
Everyone – linemakers included – have been waiting for Calgary to fall off the pace since star defenseman Marc Giordano was lost for the year with an arm injury; but the plucky squad has kept right on rolling. That makes the home dog Flames (+118) look like better value tonight.
(Photo credit: Lisa Gansky (Flickr: IMG_4666) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)