CALGARY – In desperate need of momentum, the Calgary Flames will try to build some on Monday’s overtime win over Columbus.
The Flames (13-15-3) are at a critical stage in their season on and off the ice. With 29 points, Calgary was six out of a playoff spot Tuesday, but had five teams ahead of them to get to eighth in the conference.
Speculation has been mounting that general manager Darryl Sutter’s job, or his coach and brother Brent’s, is in jeopardy.
The Flames have five games before Christmas—two at home and three on the road—in which they need link together victories.
“We’ve got to put ourselves in striking position,” centre Olli Jokinen said Tuesday.
After falling 3-2 in a shootout to Anaheim and 2-1 to Los Angeles in a swing through California at the end of last week, Calgary pulled out a 3-2 overtime win against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.
Calgary hasn’t won back-to-back games since Oct. 24 and 26, which were a 4-0 and a 5-4 shootout win over San Jose and Colorado respectively.
A chance for two in a row comes Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. It will mark the return of defenceman and Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf to Calgary for the first time since he was traded in a multi-player deal Jan. 31.
“You can’t really overstate it. We need some wins in a row,” defenceman Cory Sarich said. “Win one, lose one isn’t going to cut it.
“We look at our schedule coming up to Christmas. A lot of people are saying it’s soft or whatever it is. You get portions of your schedule that are tough and some that aren’t. You’ve got to make the most of all of it. If we can put some wins together, it puts us in a great position.”
After the Leafs leave, Calgary hosts the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and then start a three-game swing against the Wild, Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars.
Calgary’s victory versus the Blue Jackets on Monday wasn’t a classic. The Flames victimized a shaky Steve Mason in goal to take an early 2-0 lead, only to give up a short-handed goal en route to Columbus deadlocking the game 2-2 in the third period.
The game was a microcosm of the wild inconsistency that ails the Flames this season. They play like a contending team for a period and then they suffer a brain cramp.
The positives in Monday’s game were the play of captain Jarome Iginla and his two goals, including the overtime winner. Defenceman Robyn Regehr’s efforts held Rick Nash to one power-play goal and Miikka Kiprusoff once again gave his team a chance to win when they were getting outplayed.
“I think in Anaheim we took a step forward and played better,” Jokinen said. “Last night, at times we played good and it’s a good thing we were able to get two points. Kipper kept us in the game and made big saves. Iggy’s goal in overtime was huge.”
The player insulate themselves from the rumours and speculation that either their general manager or coach could be on his way out the door.
“No one likes hearing it,” forward Curtis Glencross said. “When we’re in the dressing room, we don’t talk about that kind of stuff.
“Every year you get rumours of trades, rumours of firings and all that kind of stuff, but we’ve got a good hockey team here and when we’re all playing how we’re supposed to play . . . we’re a good hockey team.”
The Flames had a day off from the ice Tuesday. They spent time at Alberta Children’s Hospital in the afternoon signing autographs, talking with children and posing for pictures.
Tension over their record was temporarily alleviated as they could reflect on the victory the previous night.
“It’s a lot easier to spread the Christmas cheer that way,” Sarich said. “It’s nice whenever you win a game, there’s always a buzz and some excitement. Last night, even though it was looking a little bleak towards the end, was an exciting finish.”