ALBERTA

Playoff-bound Calgary Flames still have something to play for in Winnipeg

04/10/2015 06:47 EDT | Updated 06/12/2015 02:59 EDT
CALGARY - With their surprising playoff berth in the bag, the Calgary Flames now hope the planets align to give them home-ice advantage in the first round.

The Flames close out the regular season Saturday afternoon in Winnipeg against the Jets. First-round opponent Vancouver finishes at home to the lowly Edmonton Oilers in the evening.

A Calgary win plus a Canucks loss in regulation moves the Flames past Vancouver into second place in the Pacific Division.

So will Flames head coach Bob Hartley put his top guns on the ice Saturday at the MTS Centre in a game that might have zero impact on the playoff picture?

"We're going into Winnipeg with the firm intention of closing out the season with a win," Hartley said Friday. "Then we'll start preparing for Vancouver.

"Rest is not part of our vocabulary."

Hartley's "onward soldier" comments may have been to keep the Flames from dialling down mentally this weekend.

They had dethroned the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings the previous evening to both claim Calgary's first playoff berth since 2009 and knock the Kings out of playoff contention.

The Calgary Tower lit up with flashing red and white lights in celebration.

Whether or not the Oilers do the Flames a favour Saturday, finishing off the regular season with a fourth straight win would further augment Calgary's confidence heading into the playoffs.

"We've got to carry momentum into Winnipeg, end the season off right and it's a whole new journey," forward Josh Jooris said. "We've got to try and keep the same mindset and try not to get away from things."

Hartley said decisions on whether players such as goaltender Joni Ortio, defenceman Tyler Wotherspoon and forward Sam Bennett get into the lineup Saturday still had to be made.

"We have quite a few guys that are banged up," Hartley acknowledged. "We will make decisions later on today if it's better to play other guys."

Despite a 41-21 edge in shots, the Jets are coming off a 1-0 loss in a shootout to the Avalanche in Denver. But in eliminating the Kings, the Flames also pulled Winnipeg into the playoffs.

Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg are the Canadian clubs already qualified for the NHL post-season, with the Ottawa Senators positioned to join them.

The Jets are in the playoffs for the first time since 1996. They'll face either Anaheim or St. Louis in the first round and can't improve on their eighth place in the conference Saturday.

"I'm going to take the guys out that I think can get better by not playing," Jets coach Paul Maurice Maurice told reporters in Winnipeg.

"We've got some guys with the daily maintenance stuff that we just don't want to see get worse. It gives us a chance to get ahead of it a little bit."

With Scotiabank Saddledome turned over to the Calgary Roughnecks for a lacrosse game, the Flames held Friday's optional skate at a multi-purpose facility.

Children and adults surrounded the glass with cellphone cameras in hand. Some players heard their names chanted as they left the ice.

Calgary finished 27th in the NHL in 2013-14. A team in the second year of a rebuild, and one that lost captain and top defenceman Mark Giordano to injury with almost a quarter of a season left, defied odds and expectations en route to the post-season.

"We finished 27th last year and guys like me coming into the lineup, so there was a lot of unknowns with our team," said Jooris, a rookie free-agent signing last summer.

"Things have worked out for the best. It's been a great ride, so it's nice to prove people wrong."

Calgary called up wingers Emile Poirier and David Wolf and defencemen John Ramage and Brett Kulak from the Adirondack Flames on Friday.

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