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Flames @ Blackhawks: Preview/Pre-Game Thread/Circle Pit

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Gametime: 8:00PM
They Can't Believe They're in 5th Either: Matchsticks and Gasoline

Lord willin' and the creek don't rise - the first game of the playoffs may actually feel like a bit of a let down if all these things keep up. The Hawks have gone from must-win to must-win and now face an absolute must-win tonight as they welcome our old friends from Cowtown to the United Center. While both teams have worked themselves back into the playoff picture, the Flames find themselves on top of the Blackhawks by a single point (though the Hawks will have two more games to even things up/surpass them). The Flames are coming off an epic cock punching of whatever is left of the St. Louis Blues, taking the home and home series with two shutouts and 6 goals last night in what sounds like a miserable night out in the old gateway city. As a Flames fan, I'm sure it's easy to get excited about those kind of results but keep in mind that I don't think there are any actual NHL players left in St. Louis - I think they're wondering if they can't just make a few of these draft picks a couple years early so they actually have bodies to fill out a roster.

Perhaps most amazingly - the wheels haven't completely fell off of Miikka Kiprusoff yet this year. Backup Henrik Karlsson has already played in 13 games this year which isn't much but actually provides Kipper with a lot more rest than he's used to getting the past few years. And he's responded well - 3 shutouts in his last 5 starts, including the Heritage Classic. So if he's on your fantasy team, you're probably doing alright lately. Kipper had the start last night in St. Louis and I'm writing this too early to get a good idea of who the Flames will give the nod too... but with the importance behind this game, I'd be shocked if they don't go with their #1. The Flames are also getting contributions from multiple sources as Alex Tanguay had three points last night, Anton Babchuk has eight points in 10 games, Olli Jokinen isn't turning out to be the disaster we all were openly rooting for and Jarome Iginla, who could have been a prime candidate for a trade earlier this year when the Flames still sucked, had two goals last night and a helper on a way to a +3. Former Hawk Rene Bourque started off the year on a hot pace but has more than mellowed out with just one point in the last four games and only two goals in eight (both in the outdoor game). He seems to play well (or at least annoyingly) against the Hawks though, so keep an eye on him.

We know the deal for the Hawks though at this point - they're playing just as well, if not better, than the Flames. The HoBoFro line has been a solid combination that is overshadowed only by how devastating the combination of Sharp and Daydream Nation has been. The defensive pairings, while screwy, have inexplicably worked (I guess those guys actually paid to coach kinda know what they're doing after all, eh?) and they will be bolstered tonight by the debut of Chris Campoli in a Hawks sweater. Word coming via the twitters is that things will stay exactly the same and have Campoli just take over Scott's role from Monday, which shouldn't surprise many.

Luckily for the Hawks - the Flames' 6-0 victory wasn't quite as easy as the final score would lead you to believe. The Flames played for most of the game with the score tied or nursing a one-goal lead before breaking things open in the third. Kipper kept them in the game and while the Flames will certainly be up for this game. The Hawks will need to control the pace to take advantage of what could be a tired squad. The Hawks are also one of the few teams in the NHL playing quite as well as Calgary.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the regular season for these two teams - the Flames hold the advantage for a change, winning two of the three but the Hawks can even the series with a victory tonight. Six is better than five.

Lets Go Hawks