Calgary Flames first-round pick Sven Bartschi of the Portland WinterhawksThe most proficient player in the WHL, Portland Winterhawks star Sven Bärtschi, jumped unexpectedly from one playoff race to another when the Calgary Flames made him an emergency recall on Wednesday.
Since the big league trumps junior in importance, the focus is no doubt on the fact the Flames called up the Swiss star since he's the only player in their system remotely capable of giving the Flames some offensive punch. (That might say a lot about how Calgary has drafted of late but that's neither here not there.) Bärtschi, as Vicki Hall noted, can only stay up in Calgary until any two of the Flames' plethora of injured players return to the lineup. That likely means the Winterhawks, who fell out of both the conference and league lead after losing 5-1 in Kamloops on Wednesday, might not see Bärtschi and his two points per game until the final weekend of the regular season.
As Hall noted:
The number of Calgary forwards in sick bay is staggering. Seven are sidelined with various and sundry ailments after Tim Jackman (upper body) went down on his first shift Tuesday against Montreal.
He joins Lee Stempniak (high ankle sprain), Blair Jones (cracked ankle), Mikael Backlund (shoulder), Michael Cammalleri (upper body), Blake Comeau (upper body) and Lance Bouma (upper body).
The Flames hope Comeau, Bouma, Jackman and defenceman Chris Butler (thigh laceration) will return within five to seven days. Cammalleri is day-to-day. Jones is skating again and lobbying hard to return, but more X-rays and an MRI are needed to determine a timeline.
Baertschi must return to junior once two of the injured players return to the lineup.
"I'm so excited," the 19-year-old said. "So pumped. It's hard to put into words how you feel when they tell you something like that." (Calgary Herald)
However, people should not read too much into Portland's result on Wednesday,even though it left them one point off the Western Conference and WHL lead with five games to go.
A quick glance at the Winterhawks' remaining schedule shows they play out the remaining regular season against the seventh through ninth-place teams in the West, the Everett Silvertips, Victoria Royals and Seattle Thunderbirds. It reckons that a contending team should be able to least, barring the two veteran goalies, Everett's Kent Simpson and Seattle's Calvin Pickard, each stealing wins, be able to pick up 7-8 of a possible 10 points.
In contrast, conference-leading Tri-City still has two games left vs. their state rival, the Spokane Chiefs. Kamloops (please keep in mind that the WHL reseeds teams according to record after Round 1 of the playoffs, so winning the division is immaterial) still has a home-and-home with a good Vancouver Giants team and a visit to Spokane left on its docket.
Not having Bärtschi hurts, but a team with a 50-goal scorer in Ty Rattie and good depth probably can't do too much poor-mouthing. The Winterhawks did take time to hit their stride this season while he had an extended stay at the Flames' camp. That was then. In the here and now, Portland has a much more taut defensive system than they did in the early season. With Joe Morrow and William Wrenn leading their back end, they don't have to win 7-6 games that often.
Bottom line, the Winterhawks can survive. Bärtschi's NHL debut is expected to come Friday vs. the Winnipeg Jets and despite his nervousness, he even got a good line off about it.
Getting throwing into the middle of an NHL playoff race isn't exactly how Baertschi pictured his first big-league outing, but he feels ready.
"I don't think the speed will be a huge problem. I just have to make sure I don't walk into (Dustin) Byfuglien.
"It's going to be a hard battle. I want to make sure I get a good practice in (Thursday) and make sure I'm prepared for the game. (Calgary Sun)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).