'D'eficient on the back end

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

Two games.

Two blown third-period leads.

Too much to bear for the Calgary Flames and their fans.

Heading into tonight's clash in Colorado, the Flames are experiencing a disturbing trend.

Their last two outings involved a third-period collapse. The first resulted in an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the second was salvaged with a shootout win over the St. Louis Blues.

The alarm bells are ringing for head coach Jim Playfair and his charges.

"I look at it over the 10-game segment and recognize how many times we've lost a lead, not just a third-period lead, but any lead. A one-goal lead in the first period, too," Playfair said yesterday. "It's something we're very aware of and something we talk about.

"It's the focal point of the entire game and it's about playoff hockey, 1-0-win mindset."

Certainly the recent trend has given fuel for the critics. After all, these are the Flames, the lock-down crew that would gain a lead and choke the life out of the opposition.

Lord knows, is the lament, they didn't blow leads last season.

Actually, yes they did and just as often.

With 13 games remaining on the docket this season, the Flames have surrendered eight third-period leads.

In 2005-06, the Flames watched a third-period edge dissipate in no fewer than 10 games.

It's a stat that even caught Rhett Warrener off guard.

"At first you think we had a really good goals against and it didn't happen but I recall times saying, 'We blew another lead,' " Warrener said yesterday.

"What team hasn't blown a third period lead? Look at the way the game is nowadays. It's a different game, you can't just sit on a one-goal lead anymore. You have to continue to press to score, that doesn't mean you don't try to shut other teams down, but it's harder.

"It's a more open style of game, more scoring. It's the type of game the NHL, the fans and the competition committee decided it wanted to sell. If you scored two goals in the first period four years ago, not very often would the team have a chance to come back. Now, it seems there's always a 4-1 or 5-1 score and the team comes back and it's in overtime."

Calgary's not alone. This month the Ottawa Senators have blown a third-period lead four times -- in five games.

That said, the Flames must begin tightening their defensive game with the playoffs some four weeks away.

Think about the game-tying goal against Tampa Bay Saturday. Vincent Lecavalier managed to sneak behind Flames defenceman Brad Stuart and receive a perfect feed before sliding a shot into the cage.

The first goal surrendered to the St. Louis Blues Monday night was a result of the forwards being too far apart when Christian Backman moved to the slot.

The second goal was a poor line change combined with Kristian Huselius chasing the puck carrier instead of the trailing man into the defensive zone.

That's on top of the disturbing number of turnovers, in all zones, and other miscues.

"There are concerns but it's not because we don't have the system in place or can't do it," Warrener said. "We're making the wrong judgments or the wrong reads.

"You think of Lecavalier's goal. In the old days, Stewie would have just hooked him or pushed him in the corner. He would have locked him up and there would have been no chance but you can't do that anymore. It's a lot harder.

"We've made too many bad reads in our own end and it's cost us but it's something everyone in the room is focused on. It's not like guys are saying, 'Ah, whatever.' It's being addressed and it's a work in progress."

That said, a bit of a mindset change may be necessary.

This year's edition of the Flames is the most prolific scoring club in more than a decade and that may have come at the expense of total commitment to defence.


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