It wasn’t long ago that all of Edmonton, San Jose, and Anaheim seemed to be sitting very comfortably on top of the NHL’s Pacific Division standings. However, following a stretch of games that has seen Calgary win what is now seven straight, they are vying for one of the Pacific Division’s three guaranteed playoff spots.
The Calgary Flames won on Sunday afternoon, and they won big. In hosting the New York Islanders, Calgary put up a large three-goal spread, one that gave them two more points in the standings, points that put some pressure squarely on both Anaheim and Edmonton.
Following the win, Calgary pulled even with the Ducks in the Pacific Division standings for third place. The Ducks, who hosted Vancouver and lost to them on Sunday, still have the edge in terms of games at hand with one extra to be played in their schedule. However, Flames’ fans have to be feeling good about their team’s prospects of achieving a top-three finish.
The importance, of course, is that the top-three teams in the standings for each division get directly into the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. Teams that finish below that cutoff point may still qualify, but they’ll have to see how their records hold up in the Wild Card race.
The San Jose Sharks are largely out of reach for Calgary, at least when it comes to changes in the immediate future. The Sharks, despite losing to Minnesota on Sunday, have a huge edge over the Flames when games at hand and points in the standings are both factored in. Heading out of the weekend, San Jose has a seven-point lead over Calgary, and the Sharks have three extra games to come. That could add up to as much as a thirteen-point gap that Calgary have to overcome if they have ambitions of finishing first in the Pacific.
As unrealistic as a division title seems this season, there’s no reason why Calgary can’t target a second-placed divisional finish. The Oilers currently hold that spot, but they have just one game at hand and a two-point lead relative to Calgary. The Oilers do have a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season, one that features a ton of home games. Furthermore, Edmonton and Calgary are done for the season in terms of head to heads, meaning Calgary can’t do damage directly to Edmonton for the balance of the regular season. In truth, the Oilers really have had Calgary’s number so far, outscoring them 21-11 and winning all four of their head-to-head meetings.
If Edmonton does take advantage of their nice home schedule for the balance of the season and if Calgary keeps playing well, then these two teams could very well play each other in the playoffs. The Battle of Alberta has been on hiatus for 26 years in the NHL and, although it may strike many young fans as strange, the battle was actually a huge part of hockey in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s. Back then whoever survived the old-school Smythe Division playoffs would basically become the Stanley Cup favorites. Edmonton and Calgary combined for six Stanley Cups over a seven-year stretch, the Oilers more than just chipping in for the total as they took down five.
There’s still a lot of hockey left in the regular season, but Edmonton and Calgary are both in the mix. That they could meet in the first round is a real possibility, one that will inject some life back into the Battle of Alberta, a battle that’s been more like a skirmish – or snowball fight – for more than two decades now.