Lookin' like fight to finish

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Less than one-third of the season remains on the NHL schedule.

The end of the marathon regular season is in sight.

Maybe that will be enough to snap the Flames out of their doldrums.

"It's that time of year now. It's a sprint to the finish," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"The next month and a half are going to go quick, so now is where people are scoreboard watching and seeing where they are. There is a huge log jam with the teams we are about to play. We want to distance ourselves, and we have a chance to do that straight ahead."

When they hit the ice to face the Wild tonight in Minnesota, the Flames do so with an eight-point edge on the vancouver Canucks, their next closest Northwest Division riva. The Oilers sit 10 back, and the Wild are 13 in arrears.

It's a comfortable cushion, but not as cosy as the 11-point bulge the Flames had on the pack a couple of weeks back.

Which means a little bit of uneasiness in the Flames dressing room and in their minds.

And that's a good thing.

For all their talk a short while ago of catching the Detroit Red Wings and climbing to second spot in the Western Conference, it was never really feasible for the Flames. Certainly not with the road-heavy schedule they're facing, nine of the next 12 away from the Saddledome.

Just like it's hard to imagine they'll be caught by a divisional rival. (Consider this: Vancouver hasn't made up a single point on Calgary over each team's past five games. The Canucks won four of five, while the Flames went 3-0-2.)

Sitting in something of a no-man's land left the Flames looking like a team searching for a shot of motivation and battling a hint of complacency.

That lack of focus was visible during the four-game losing skid. It was easy to spot even during the road swing to Southern California and Phoenix.

On Tuesday night against the Canucks, even in a 4-3 shootout loss, the signs of snapping it together were there. The puzzle isn't back together -- it takes time -- but the first pieces are getting in place.

"I guess complacency is kind of one of those catch phrases you can throw out when a team's got a little bit of a cushion and maybe they're not doing some things well," said Flames left-winger Michael Cammalleri.

"I would say (Tuesday night) everyone knew the importance and felt it."

Sure did. The end result was a loss, but two positives came out of it.

For the first time in a couple of weeks, the Flames played with strong intensity for the full game. Their performance was far from flawless, but the determination was back.

There was also a real air of anger about losing.

"I don't think we're complacent," said defenceman Adrian Aucoin.

"I just think sometimes we're not disciplined system-wise a little bit and that's why we're giving up too many chances."

His point can't be argued. As great as goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was against Vancouver, especially in the third period, his performance was hardly a one-night stand.

Kiprusoff was at his best in both Anaheim and Los Angeles. He beat the Kings with a shutout in the 2-0 victory and was stellar to earn an overtime-loss charity point the night before against the Ducks in a 3-2 tilt.

He's had to be. Over the past four games, the Flames have surrendered a scary total of 156 shots on goal.

Rest assured, as the Flames prepare for a defensive team like Minnesota, clamping down in their own zone is a major order of business.

"Now that you mention it, yeah, I think we could probably take a page out of their book," Cammalleri said.

"They try and keep shots to the outside and let their goalie stop them.

"They try not to allow too many Grade-A scoring chances -- something we need to do, for sure."


Videos

Photos