SUN Hockey Pool

Hot Flames try to ignore 'favourite' label

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Returning home after a successful trip to San Jose, the Calgary Flames were peppered with questions asking them to define themselves.

Beating the Sharks twice in nine days has people talking.

The word elite continues to be bandied about in the media and made its way into the Saddledome hallways yesterday after a gutsy 3-2 at the Shark Tank.

More than once.

"He's taking your spot, asking the same questions later on," Flames alternate captain Robyn Regehr told a radio reporter after a TV crew joined a scrum late and let loose the five-letter word.

"Do you want to play that tape back for him?"

It's not that they're offended by the idea they are that close to being one of the league's best. But there is the danger of admitting it to themselves and losing the edge they've discovered since erasing an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the host Sharks in November.

"I think it is (dangerous) to a certain extent," said Regehr of other teams potentially being offended or his own squad getting complacent. "If you go out there and you prove it and you do it night-in and night-out and season after season, then you can do that. You earn that respect. "For us right now, I think we're trying to work in that direction, and we've taken some really good strides."

In doing so, the Flames have built a nine-point lead in the Northwest Division and climbed near the top of a second tier of NHL contenders behind the Boston Bruins, the Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings.

"The focus isn't on trying to call ourselves the top team -- the focus is on winning hockey games," Regehr said. "After you win games, all those things will come about."

Their next assignment comes tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Desert Dogs are a Western Conference surprise, sitting sixth yesterday afternoon and showing playoff potential.

Nobody will mistake them for a top team just yet, but the win is just as important as the one in San Jose everyone is still talking about.

That was Dion Phaneuf's message to the media yesterday.

"You guys are focused on last night's game, and we're focused on Saturday's game. We're playing a very good team in Phoenix, and that's the bottom line," said Phaneuf, who scored the game-winner in San Jose Thursday.

"Last night's over and done with. Like I said -- and like we're saying in our room -- 'We're playing a very good team (tonight), and that's our focus. We're playing the Phoenix Coyotes in our building, and that's the biggest game of the year for our team now.' "

If that's the approach the Flames are taking, it seems to be working.

The old Flames might have collapsed at the Tank after falling behind early in the first period. The new ones fought back from deficits twice to come away with the two points Thursday.

"Can we move from being a competitor to a favourite? I think, in time, we can," said head coach Mike Keenan, who has three levels to his assessment -- underdog, contender and favourite.

"We continue to move closer to that expectation and that possibility, but it's a process. We have a lot to prove to ourselves and a lot of areas to make improvements."

ICE CHIP

LW Todd Bertuzzi is still listed as day-to-day, but there's a good chance he'll be in the Flames lineup tonight.


Videos

Photos