CALGARY – David Moss does it nightly, Jarome Iginla every morning and Matt Stajan sometimes waits until he’s brushed his teeth.
The Flames can’t help doing what their fans are doing—constantly checking in on the drama that is the NHL’s Western Conference standings.
Calgary (35-24-9) ranked everywhere from fifth to eighth over the five days prior to their Tuesday departure for an important two-game road swing through Dallas and Phoenix.
“Everyone says you can’t watch the standings or whatever, but people are lying if they tell you they’re not,” Moss said. “I think everyone does.”
Calgary and Dallas are tied at 79 points heading into Wednesday’s game at American Airlines Arena, but the Stars ranked fifth with two games in hand, followed by the Flames in sixth.
Phoenix was a point back of both clubs, but the Coyotes had a game in hand heading into Tuesday’s matchup with Vancouver. The Flames could wake up yet again Wednesday to find their ranking changed without having played the night before.
The Flames did their part to stay in the playoff race over the weekend with wins over Columbus and Nashville, but the Stars, Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks also picked up points to further constrict the post-season chase.
The conference standings are posted in the players’ quarters at the Scotiabank Saddledome for the Flames to see. Any game involving Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix or Los Angeles immediately impacts Calgary’s position. Minnesota, Anaheim and Nashville were knocking on the door just four points back Tuesday.
Winger Alex Tanguay pointed to the Stars’ overtime win over the Kings on Monday, which not only vaulted Dallas ahead of Calgary, but gave a precious point to the Kings in eighth.
“Last night, it didn’t matter who won the game, we just didn’t want to see a three-point game between Dallas and L.A., but that’s what happened,” he said.
The Flames can’t help but be intrigued by what’s happening around them, but they’re trying not to let their emotions or their play mirror their wild ride up and down the standings.
“You can’t get caught up in it, but you know it’s there,” Stajan said. “When you lose a game, you know how important those two points are and when other teams win games, or there’s a three-point game like you saw last night, you know how that can come back to bite us.
“You’re definitely going through emotions. Everyone takes it a different way, but when it comes to game time we have to be focused and take care of our business.”
Calgary is second only to Detroit in average age. That experience has helped them stay loose in such a tense playoff race.
“If you play hockey, that’s the situation you want to be in,” Tanguay said. “You want to have a chance to get in the playoffs. You want to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. From where we were two months ago to where we are now, I think everybody is enjoying the situation we’re in now.”
It was Calgary’s previous visit to Dallas on Dec. 23 when the Flames began salvaging their season. Second-last in the conference at the time, head coach Brent Sutter told his players to focus on just winning two out of every three games.
The Flames beat the Stars in a shootout that night and, including that game, have taken 50 points out of a possible 66 since.
“I remember a lot about that whole day. It was an important day for this team,” Sutter said.
“At that point in time, I believe we had three losses in row. We’d lost in Minnesota and in Columbus. We needed to find another button to push and start over. We went through some things that day, set some goals for ourselves. It was like we started the season over.”
The Flames boarded left Calgary on Tuesday feeling more confident in a road record that was 27th in the NHL (6-11-3) when general manager Darryl Sutter resigned on Dec. 28 and was replaced by acting GM Jay Feaster. Calgary’s road record has improved to 14-14-5, good enough for 12th in the league.
Vastly improved special teams, solid goaltending from the reliable Mikka Kiprusoff and more secondary scoring from Moss, Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen have been the keys to Calgary’s turnaround at home and away.
Their playoff hopes are still precarious, however, as almost every team just above and below Calgary in the standings has a game or two in hand. Calgary needs another 27 points to get to the magic 95 range that usually qualifies for playoffs.
“These next couple weeks we get to play everybody who is right around us and we have a real chance to make a move,” Iginla said. “We expect it to be close right to the end.’
Meanwhile, centre Brendan Morrison spoke to the media Tuesday for the first time since injuring his left knee last week in Chicago. The 35-year-old will be out another two to three weeks, but has no firm date for his return.
Morrison said he didn’t appreciate the verbal jabs he heard from the Blackhawks’ bench as he hobbled across the ice last Wednesday, calling it “disrespectful.”
“You do what you do and try and get off the ice,” Morrison said. “Some young guys on their team were standing up and yelling. It’s not very professional.”