VANCOUVER – Considering the ground they have gained over the last several weeks the Calgary Flames are determined a little slip won’t trip up their march to a NHL playoff spot.
The Flames have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the last several weeks, allowing Calgary to climb back into the playoff mix.
But a 4-2 loss to the league-leading Vancouver Canucks Saturday, on the heels of a 5-4 overtime defeat by the Anaheim Ducks Friday, have dropped the Flames out of the top eight in the Western Conference.
“We would have liked to have more points the last couple of games, but we will be all right and we will keep going,” said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla. “The most important thing now is we are focusing on having that consistent work ethic and that confidence. We will be fine.”
While the Flames continue to hunt for a spot in the post-season, the Canucks want to keep pounding the message home that the road to the Stanley Cup final has to pass through Vancouver.
“If (teams) feel they can come in here and beat us, they are going to have that with them in the playoffs,” said Daniel Sedin, who continues to chase Steven Stamkos for the scoring title.
“That’s part of being a great team, to keep it going for 82 games and know you are good enough to win in the playoffs.”
Heading into Sunday’s games, Vancouver led the NHL with a 36-11-9 record for 81 points. That put them four ahead of Philadelphia overall and nine in front of Detroit in the Western Conference.
The Flames have a record of 28-22-8 for 64 points. That put them ninth in the West, one point behind Minnesota, but one ahead of Los Angeles and two in front of Chicago.
Calgary coach Brent Sutter said winning is the only way his team can create some space in the tight playoff race.
“At this point the only thing you can control is how you play and getting wins yourself,” said Sutter. “We have done a pretty darn good job at that and having that mind set.
“We still need to win our games. We need to take care of our business. The standings will continue to look after themselves.”
The Flames are 14-4-5 in their last 23 games and 8-1-2 in their last 11. During that streak Calgary has scored 40 goals.
It’s quite a turnaround for a team whose playoff hopes seemed to be flickering like a candle in the wind before Christmas.
When Darryl Sutter resigned as general manager on Dec. 28, the Flames’ record was 16-18-3. Calgary was fourth in the Northwest Division and just five points ahead of last-place Edmonton in the Western Conference standings.
Losing the often dour Darryl Sutter seemed the lighten the mood around the Calgary dressing room. At the same time, players like goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, Olli Jokinen and Iginla picked up their games.
“We adjusted some things as a team, as far as our approach,” said Iginla, who had one assist Saturday. “At the beginning of the year, when we got off to a tough start, I think everybody started pressing and pushing. Everyone wanted to do more.
“We started relaxing and settling in. Before we turned this around we knew we could be a good team. You look at other teams that are having success and we just have to get our confidence back and feeling good about ourselves.”
The Flames have been resilient during their resurgence. Unlike earlier in the year, they refused to give up when they get down by a goal. This has resulted in come-from-behind wins, or even salvaging points with overtime losses.
While the Flame find their stride, Vancouver continues to set a blistering pace.
The Canucks are 8-1 in their last nine games and have collected points in 10 of their last 11 matches. It’s the first time in franchise history Vancouver has been first in the league this late in the season.
Vancouver saw a six-game win streak snapped with a 4-3 loss to Anaheim on Wednesday. It was the Vancouver’s first home loss in regulation time since Dec. 5.
It’s too early to know who Vancouver will meet in the playoffs. But the Canucks are sending out the message they are a hard team to beat anytime.
“This time of year it becomes really important,” said forward Tanner Glass. “Hockey players have long memories and these games down the stretch stay pretty fresh in their minds. In our building we want to put it out in their minds it’s a pretty tough place to win in.”
The Canucks head into the final part of the season dealing with a rash of injuries on defence.
Alex Edler isn’t expected to return until the playoffs after having back surgery. Keith Ballard is out four weeks with a knee injury and Dan Hamhuis is out indefinitely with a concussion. Lee Sweatt, called up from the AHL Manitoba Moose, has a fractured foot.
On a positive note, defenceman Sami Salo returned to the lineup Saturday night after missing the entire season due to a torn Achilles tendon suffered during the summer.
Salo had 10:35 of ice time against the Flames and managed one shot on net.
Only a total meltdown will stop Vancouver from making the playoffs.
The Flames know they will need total dedication to extend their season.
“We know where we need to get too,” said Brent Sutter. “We know what it’s going to take for points, how we need to play.
“We’re down to 24 games. It’s important we have success in those games, play well and give ourselves a chance.”