NHL: Flames not going away quietly in wild-card race, visit Canucks

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It has been a season of change for the Calgary Flames, who are just two points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with a favorable closing schedule.

Calgary’s playoff push continues Friday night when they visit the Vancouver Canucks, whose late-season resurgence is showing cracks as the reality of missing another postseason sets in.

The Flames (34-26-15, 83 points) are optimistic about their postseason chances, especially since five of their seven remaining games are against sub-.500 teams and they are riding a hot goaltender in Jacob Markstrom, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season.

Thanks to their stingy defensive effort against the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, the Flames remain in a battle with the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators for the final wild-card spot in the West.

They need one win to tie the Jets, but the Predators aren’t going away either. Calgary and Winnipeg have seven games remaining and Nashville has nine heading into Thursday’s action. Of the three, the Flames have the easiest schedule.

There was plenty of uncertainty heading into the season for Calgary, the reigning Pacific Division champion, after Americans Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau fled to join U.S.-based teams.

Calgary has won three of its last four games heading into the divisional clash against the Canucks. The Flames went 2-1 on a recent three-game homestand, losing to Vegas 3-2 and beating San Jose 5-3 before a 2-1 win over Los Angeles on Tuesday, in which Markstrom turned aside 32 shots.

“He probably stole us two points,” Flames forward Elias Lindholm said. “He was good all night, really sharp. We need him to play like that.”

Andrew Mangiapane and Walker Duehr scored as Calgary snapped the Kings’ 12-game points streak.

“Big two points,” Markstrom said. “Put them in the books and then go back to work.”

The Flames are hoping to collect another two points against the Canucks (34-34-6, 74 points), who have won three of their last four as they embark on a five-game homestand.

Quinn Hughes had two goals and an assist as the Canucks absorbed a 6-5 overtime loss at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

St. Louis jumped out to a 5-2 lead halfway through the second before the Canucks rallied to tie it in the third. Jakub Vrana scored the Blues’ winner 28 seconds into the extra session.

Coach Rick Tocchet said he had to shorten the bench late in the game to get Vancouver back into it.

“Our (defensive) zone coverage early wasn’t good,” Tocchet said. “There’s a bunch of guys who really battled hard for us there in the third period. I went to three lines and got us back in the game.”

Andrei Kuzmenko scored twice and Elias Pettersson had two assists to extend his NHL career-high point streak to 13 games (seven goals, 12 assists). It was tied for the longest active streak in the NHL and the fourth longest in Canucks history.

“It was not our best, but we gave ourselves a chance and got back in it,” Hughes said. “I don’t think we played that well in the first (period), to be honest. We didn’t really play that well in the second either. We made some plays in the third.”

–Field Level Media

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