CALGARY – Five teams within one point fighting for two playoff spots.
That’s the reality that the Calgary Flames woke up to on Wednesday morning along with the Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche.
But thanks to a 3-2 overtime win over the Sharks on Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames (33-25-12) pulled to within one point of the Coyotes (34-25-11) for seventh spot in the hotly-contested Western Conference.
That narrow gap has Calgary feeling bold.
“We know the importance of every single game and the points that are at stake every night,” said forward Matt Stajan, who scored the overtime winner against the Sharks. “You know if you let any slip away, at least one of those teams is going to get a jump on you. We want to be the team that’s getting a jump on the other teams and by doing that we’ve got to keep winning.”
Heading into their game in Vancouver against the Canucks on Wednesday, the Coyotes sat with 79 points just one point ahead of the Sharks, Flames, Kings and Avalanche.
The Flames will be looking to continue their ascent up the standings when they host the Coyotes on Thursday night.
“We have to come out (Thursday) and play our best game and hopefully get two points,” said forward Alex Tanguay, who has continually stated that he believes the Flames have what it takes to qualify for the post-season. “Certainly right now we’re in a good frame of mind. We’re extremely confident and we need to be. This is a crucial time of the year for us.
“This is our playoffs. We’re already in them. Some of the teams can sit back and get themselves ready a little bit more and rest maybe perhaps a little bit more.”
After his team’s overtime triumph over the Sharks, Calgary coach Brent Sutter had a huge grin on his face and even celebrated by giving assistant coach Dave Lowry a big hug on the bench.
“I’m actually a pretty emotional guy but I just control it and you guys don’t get to see it,” Sutter said. “These games are emotional games. It’s playoff hockey and what we were going through last night in the game and the adversity we had to go through in different ways, I was happy the guys were able to prevail through it. It showed a lot about the character inside the dressing room.”
As to whether Sutter will celebrate like that in the future, he said: “Now you guys are making a big deal about it, I guess I’ll never do it again. I don’t want to be answering these questions.”
Instead Sutter would like to talk about the type of contributions he’s getting from players like Stajan, who got a vote of confidence from his coach by being used in overtime against San Jose.
“That’s probably one of the first times he’s had an opportunity to play four-on-four hockey,” Sutter said. “The way he’s been playing, I felt good about him going on the ice.”
Sutter also continued to commend the play of Sven Baertschi, who has counted two goals in three games since being summoned from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League on an emergency basis.
When asked if Baertschi would still be in the lineup against the Coyotes on Thursday, Sutter responded in the affirmative.
“He might see another eight games or seven games or six games,” said Sutter, who noted that injured forwards Lee Stempniak, Tim Jackman and Lance Bouma wouldn’t be ready to play despite skating on Wednesday. “Once guys are healthy and getting back then obviously you have to re-assign him back, but we’re not at that stage yet.”
Tanguay agreed that Baertschi has brought a level of enthusiasm to the Flames that has helped them during their current winning streak.
“It’s always nice to have young guys coming in,” Tanguay said. “He’s been doing some good things and the puck keeps finding him in front of the net. Certainly (Thursday) night he scored a big goal for us and got us going. To have that kind of enthusiasm is good for us at this time of the year.”
With seven of their remaining 12 games at home, the Flames also hope to get continued support from their boisterous fans at the Saddledome.
“Playing at home at this time of year and the games being as big as they are, I think everybody’s very engaged in it,” Sutter said. “Obviously the team is and the fans certainly have been too.”
Stajan admitted that the players have received a big boost from the fans during the past three wins at the Saddledome.
“As players it’s huge for us to have our fans on our side and get us going,” he said. “We have a lot of home games here down the stretch, so we need the home fans right there from the anthem to be on their feet getting us going. That’s huge to play home games and the crowd definitely has a big factor in shifting momentum in hockey games especially from the start.”
Notes: Forward Curtis Glencross found out on Wednesday that he would receive no further discipline for his hit from behind on San Jose defenceman Jason Demers late in the first period of Tuesday’s game. Glencross, who received a boarding major and a game misconduct for the incident, was disappointed with the call. “I figure it should have been a two minute minor penalty,” he said. “That’s why I was probably more frustrated than anything. You look at the game … and a lot of stuff was let go.” … The Flames have recalled goalie Leland Irving from the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. With back-to-back games over the next two days, it’s expected that Irving will get the start in Edmonton on Friday against the Oilers.