Flames get thirst for first

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:00 AM ET

Even with a losing skid now numbering three games, the Calgary Flames haven't plummeted.

First place in the Northwest Division could again be in their grasp with a win tonight in St. Louis against the Blues.

They've dodged a bullet through a swoon -- although the last two loses did come with a loser point -- and enjoyed a few days off.

It would be best, however, to not let their problems become any worse.

"We need these two games and these four points bad," Flames centre Craig Conroy said before whisking away to St. Louis.

"Teams have helped us and other teams have played a lot of games lately so that has helped us. It's been a tough schedule but everyone is doing it.

"You can tell by the standings because everything is tight right now.

"We have to take these opportunities to pull away. Right now, we're saying this is a good opportunity for us because we have two road games and a bunch more at home. We have to create some separation with this stretch."

After facing the Blues and Minnesota Wild tomorrow, the Flames return to the Stampede City for their longest homestand of the season -- five games.

The weather in Calgary may be frightful -- and it's not going to be that much better in St. Louis or St. Paul these next couple of days -- but the opportunity is staring at the Flames to warm up.

"Managing our schedule is important right now and being prepared for these games," said head coach Mike Keenan.

"We're in a tight divisional race. You wake up in the morning and you have moved within the division even if you haven't played. We're competing for that divisional title and that's important."

Hockey players are big on reminders, and the Flames have a couple of big ones from very recent history to tide them through these games.

It was only 11 days ago they began a road trip in St. Louis. Calgary skated away with a 4-3 overtime win, but needed to erase a two-goal, third-period deficit to do it.

"We put them on the powerplay too much the last time we played them," Conroy said. "We felt fortunate to come back and get some goals. We want to come out quick on them.

"Their goalie (Manny Legace) got hurt the other day and I'm not sure if he will be back or not. We have to come out a lot more determined than we did last time."

The other reminder would be the back-to-back losses in Montreal and Detroit.

"I'm sure Minnesota loves it we're playing back to back, but I would just as soon keep playing every night. Even against Montreal, we lost but went into Detroit feeling pretty good," Conroy said.

He was then reminded how in Detroit his team that couldn't hang on to a third-period lead before falling in overtime.

"The momentum shifted when they started scoring. If we could have gotten the (Henrik) Zetterberg goal back things would have been different," he said. "We probably got a bit tired and they had much more jump.

"It was good to get refreshed (in Calgary for a couple of days). We want to be at home a bit more, have some home cooking."

They're fueled up and raring to go, apparently.

"The great thing about hockey is playing 82 games a year. You get more opportunities," said defenceman Adam Pardy. "If you mess up one night, you can come back the next, refocus and start with a clean slate. It works both ways. Being on the road and playing back to back, you can get some momentum from the first night. You can easily get on a roll.

"That's what we're hoping to do."


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