Press-ure cooker

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

Rhett Warrener wore a grin while he dished it out on camera this week and was wearing that same smile when he later took a jab at the reporters surrounding his stall after the Detroit victory.

Alex Tanguay showed off his pearly whites and had a mischievous look in his eye when he did the same thing yesterday morning.

The Calgary Flames have taken a lot of shots from the media over the past month and have been firing back after huge victories in a couple of must-win games against top opponents this week.

General manager Darryl Sutter dropped the first bomb at the Molson Cup luncheon Monday afternoon when he thanked the local media "for their positive re-enforcement."

Earlier that morning, he met with his coaches and players and somehow helped pull everyone in that dressing room together for the cause as the Flames fight to maintain their lead for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Members of mass media may like to think they were included in an 'Us Against Them' speech the general used to rally the troops.

Truth is, only the players, coaches and GM know the truth.

"Nobody knows the real story," said injured forward Darren McCarty yesterday as most of his teammates enjoyed a day off. "Except for us."

And they aren't telling.

That guys like Warrener and Tanguay are still able to laugh along with the scribes and TV personalities after the players suggests this: They don't care what's written, even if they fib and say they don't read or watch or listen in the first place.

If they truly held a grudge, they would reject an interview altogether.

"That's sports, man," said McCarty.

"What makes good teams good teams is that they sort of have this attitude that whatever happens on the outside is sort of entertainment. It has no effect.

"Sure, nobody likes to see something negative written about them or the team but as long as everybody in here is on the same page -- which we are and we have been -- it's what makes you stronger as a team.

"We're on the same page and we know what's going to be written. It's just the nature of the game. It makes you laugh, some of the things that are said."

So maybe the papers, radio shows and sports networks can't claim they're a factor in the Flames' recent refocusing but the players can't deny any longer that they pay no attention to the stuff that's made public.

"We know that the media are very critical in Canada toward their team. They tell the truth, sometimes that's not what we want to hear," said Tanguay.

"We've always believed in our team and we're not going to let people outside the dressing room tell us what we can and can't do."

Tanguay does admit the team has come together for the stretch run to a degree it hadn't yet achieved previously this season.

"I think you do," he said. "Desperate times need desperate measures and it's certainly helped that we're a little more desperate and I think it showed on the ice."

With their next four games on the road, the team knows any slip will be magnified and fans who have returned to support mode could slip back into panic.

McCarty says fans and media outlets are so bipolar because of expectations placed on this year's team.

"You see the change, especially in Calgary since '04 because that season was the first coming out season. Everybody's just happy that we're gonna make the playoffs. There really were no expectations," said McCarty. "Now there's expectations on this club from fans and people.

"When it comes down to it for us, you've got to take whatever's written good with a grain of salt and take the bad with a grain of salt because it's going to go back and forth."


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