The Calgary Flames have an opportunity to drive the last nail into the Toronto Maple Leafs coffin.
On Mar. 13, the Leafs had a firm grip on a playoff spot with home ice advantage. Since then, the Buds have dropped eight straight contests and fell out of the post-season. Toronto is two points shy of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and would need to leap-frog Washington and Columbus, who both have games-in-hand.
Matt Stajan isn't concerned about the Leaf's situation and embraces the challenge.
"They’re fighting for their playoff lives and we’ll be ready for it," Stajan said. "We shouldn’t be worried about it—we’ve got to bounce back from our last game.
"We want to be difference makers and play the spoiler role, that’s our mindset and we’re trying to play the right way and hopefully this will roll into next year, playing the right way. We’ll be ready and I’m sure they will be too."
With six games remaining, Toronto likely can't afford to lose any of them, which makes this tilt another "must win" for them.
Flames captain Mark Giordano feels the urgency of the situation but stressed a quick start for his team is the way to counter.
"I don’t think, I know—this is probably as desperate as it gets for hockey team," Giordano said after the Flames morning skate in Toronto. "They’re going to be fighting for their lives. I saw part of their practice yesterday and it looked really intense. Even their last game I thought they came out flying so we really need to be ready for that. Those first ten minutes are going to be a big ten minutes in tonight’s game.
"We just got to play our game and try and get a chance or two and hopefully get [a goal] early. "
VAN BRABANT TO MAKE DEBUT
Bryce Van Brabant will be the 10th player to make his NHL debut with the Flames this season.
The 22-year-old inked a two-year entry-level contract with the Flames and joined the team straight from Quinnipiac after they were eliminated by Providence College in the NCAA East Regional semifinal Friday.
Van Brabent participated in his first NHL practice Monday in Toronto and confirmed the jump from college to pro is a big one.
"Guys are bigger and faster and a lot smarter," he said. "You’re not going to have guys out of position. Everyone has a good stick and makes nice easy passes.
"You got to have your head up and have that poise because they just close in so fast on you."
Flames coach Bob Hartley admitted he isn't sure what to expect from Van Brabant.
"The first game is almost like a jack-in-the-box," Hartley said. You don’t know how the kid will control his emotions—will the kid get caught watching [Phil] Kessell and watching [Mark] Girodano and watching [Dion] Phaneuf—I don’t know."
Making a debut in Toronto of all places will be pretty overwhelming for thje Morinville, AB native, something Hartley and his staff are aware of and are cautious to not add to his nerves.
"I never put pressure on a kid playing his first game, I want him to enjoy it," Hartley said. "His parents will be in the stands [and] to start your NHL career in Toronto is pretty tough to beat.
"We’ll let him play, we’re trying to help him right now through systems and little details in our game that we’re looking at. Let him enjoy [it], it’s a long journey."
The rugged forward racked up 113 penalty minutes in just 40 games this season in the ECAC, a league where penalty minutes are hard to come by. Van Brabant knows that's the main reason why the Flames offered him a contract and doesn't plan on changing what got him this far.
"I'm just going to keep with my game, [The Flames] saw me and liked how I play so I’m not going to pretend to be someone I’m not," he said from the Flames locker room at the Air Canada Centre. "I’m just going to go out there and do what I do well and hopefully success will follow."
"Right now he’s really moving. Both sides of the puck—offensively he’s creating a lot for us. He’s a very smart player, unbelievable hockey sense and defensively he has improved a lot. He has been a great acquisition for us.."
- Bob Hartley when asked about the progression of forward Joe Colborne.
MILESTONES WITHIN REACH
Mike Cammalleri is 3 points from 500.
Kris Russell is 7 assists from 100.
Mark Giordano is 6 points away from 200.
All-time vs. the Leafs: 43-35-4-1
All-time vs. the Leafs in Toronto: 14-20-1-1
Last 10 games vs. the Leafs: 6-3-0-1
Last 10 games vs. the Leafs in Toronto: 3-6-0-1
Calgary has won two of the last three games in Toronto. Three of the last ten games at Air Canada Centre have gone to extra time.
Tonight's battle with the Leafs will be broadcast on Sportsnet West (TV) and Sportsnet 960 The FAN (radio).
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