SUN Hockey Pool

Flames still hold hammer

Darren McCarty (right) and Craig Conroy share a laugh at Flames practice earlier this week. (Sun...

Darren McCarty (right) and Craig Conroy share a laugh at Flames practice earlier this week. (Sun Media/Kevin Udahl)

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

There are grounds to be concerned but no reason to panic. At least not yet.

Every Flames fan in Calgary was hoping, maybe even expecting, to wake up yesterday morning with the comfort of knowing their team was in the playoffs for a third straight season.

A 4-3 loss to the visiting Colorado Avalanche -- a team that refuses to die despite the mountain of odds stacked against them -- crushed those hopes and leaves the Flames three more shots at clinching a berth by their own hands.

Tonight in San Jose, Saturday at the Saddledome against the Edmonton Oilers and Sunday in the regular-season finale in Denver.

"Things are still in our hands," said Alex Tanguay after the loss. "We'll just have to wait a few more days."

Of course, they could be handed that final spot in the Western Conference should the Avalanche fail to grab two points in any of their last few games: In Vancouver tonight, then a two-game home stand against Nashville and the Flames.

Nobody in their right mind in this city wants to see the race come down to that final game in the Mile High City. Not the way the Avs have been playing. Especially not after watching Joe Sakic and friends stick it to the Flames Tuesday night in what many in Calgary's dressing room called the game of the year before the match.

That's the biggest reason for concern -- that a team on a six-game winning streak couldn't empty the tank to clinch a playoff spot in front of a famished crowd already anticipating serious spring hockey in the building.

The Flames were a little tired coming off a long and successful road trip but will need to find that killer instinct if they want to be a threat in the playoffs.

Winning in San Jose won't be any easier.

While the Flames have claimed four of their last six at the 'Dome against the men in teal, the Shark Tank has been hostile. They have just one win in their last eight regular-season attempts there.

Opponents at this point are irrelevant, said Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"Over this last eight games or whatever, we haven't really been looking at each team so much. It's just about winning. It happens to be the Sharks.

"We know they have Joe Thornton and (Jonathan) Cheechoo playing so well. But it's just about getting a win," said Iginla after the loss to the Avs.

"Now this is a loss and just like when you're in the playoffs you've got to rebound. It's up to us to rebound."

Yes, their destiny is still in their own hands but it's like sand slipping through their fingers if they don't play with the same intensity and discipline they used to string together a six-pack of victories down the stretch.

"When we've had success we've had really good starts, we've been able to draw the penalties, stay out of the box," said Iginla. "(Tuesday night) we didn't do any of those. That's something we'll get back to."

The outlook was positive in the dressing room despite the missed opportunity. Head coach Jim Playfair and each Flame interviewed post-game Tuesday was already looking ahead to San Jose and their next chance.

"We've got to win this next one and put it behind us."


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