Colorado Avalanche Look To Finish Off Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames finished the 2018-2019 NHL regular season with the best record in the Western Conference. Their 109 points put them in a second place tie with the Boston Bruins for most in the entire National Hockey League. As good as they were during the regular season, the Flames will be fighting for their playoff lives on Friday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The Colorado Avalanche finished the regular season with 90 points–the fewest of any team that qualified for the playoffs. This put them 10 points below the Central Division winning Nashville Predators, and 17 below the Western Conference leading Flames. They had 8 points fewer than the last team to qualify for the playoffs in the East, the Columbus Blue Jackets and by now everyone knows how things are working out for them.

In the wake of the aforementioned Blue Jackets’ historic first round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning–aka the NHL’s top regular season team who put up the fourth best point total in history–none of this should be surprising. The Colorado Avalanche looked completely overmatched in Game 1, losing 4-0 on Calgary’s home ice. The Flames haven’t won a game since and find themselves back on Saddledome Ice down 3-1. To be fair, the disparity between the regular season point total in the Colorado/Calgary series is less than between Tampa Bay and Columbus but not by much. The Flames have some consolation that two of the Avalanche wins came in overtime though the Avs thumped Calgary 6-2 in Game 3 at home. For Calgary’s players and fans the fact remains that they have no margin for error and if they lose one more game they’ll be watching the rest of the playoffs on television.

The individual games have been more competitive than the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first round debacle but like Columbus, this Colorado Avalanche team is no fluke. The team’s biggest question mark this year was defense and goaltending. During the regular season, they put up middle of the road numbers in both goals against per game, shots against per game and team save percentage. Even so, Phillip Grubauer has outplayed Calgary’s Mike Smith and the much maligned defense has done a good job of shutting down Calgary’s high octane offense that tied for 2 in goals per game this season. Calgary, meanwhile, has been giving up an average of 43.3 shots against per game in this series–the worst such performance in any first round matchup.

This game is a big ‘gut check’ for Calgary. Despite the Avs 3-1 advantage, the series has been for the most part evenly contested with a pair of 1 goal Colorado wins coming in OT. There’s also no guarantee that the Avalanche will continue to get the same quality of play from their defense and goalie. The Flames are facing a tougher challenge in addition to the series deficit. They need to play with more intensity in all phases of the game. The defense needs to limit Colorado’s scoring opportunities and the offense needs to put more pressure on Grubauer. One huge problem for Calgary–Colorado might have the best top line in the league with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. With all due respect to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid I’m not sure that MacKinnon isn’t the best all around player in the NHL.

One component of this series that is completely different from the Tampa Bay/Columbus series is downright cultural. Tampa Bay fans were bummed about the Lightning’s crash and burn but hockey isn’t the biggest game in town or for that matter the state. The Lightning will take some lumps from fans and the media but will generally be able to go through their Summer relatively unscathed. That’s not the case in hockey mad Calgary where the fans have a track record of rioting when they’re in a bad mood. Hopes were high after the second best regular season performance in team history and should the Flames lose in the first round the Calgary fans and media won’t be so quick to let it go as their Florida counterparts. All the pressure in this game and this series is on Calgary and it remains to be seen if a team with only 3 playoff appearances in the past decade will respond favorably to that. Until they prove they can, the NHL hockey betting odds clearly establish the underdog Avalanche as the value side.


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