SUN Hockey Pool

Flames ready to roll-up-the-wins

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

It's here.

The biggest road trip of the season -- both figuratively and literally -- has arrived, necessitated by the upcoming Brier.

When the Calgary Flames return home from the seven-game trek, it could be as conquering heroes -- on the cusp of winning a division title in what's been an exciting season.

It could be battered, bruised and beaten, with a deer-in-the-headlights look and clinging to their perch. Or, if all falls apart completely, hoping to remain high enough to not face Detroit or San Jose in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bank on the former to unfold over the next couple of weeks. And a big reason would be Sunday's disappointing 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As funny as it sounds, that defeat was the perfect send-off for the team as it embarked on a cross-continent trip.

That's right, perfect.

Had the Flames eked out a comeback win over the Lightning, it would have certainly made Jarome Iginla's milestone night more enjoyable.

Instead, Calgary was dreadful defensively, resulting in a pounding this team needs once in a while to snap to attention. And, there's no better time for such a lesson than the eve of a long road swing.

It happened in mid-November after the now infamous loss in San Jose.

It happened again early last month when Chicago came to town and smacked around the Flames in a 5-2 tilt that had them on their way to a four-game losing skid.

"We weren't good enough defensively. That's not acceptable and we're not happy about it. We have to be better," defenceman Dion Phaneuf said. "We know how we have to play to be successful and to win games. We've done it all year long.

"We have to move from this game and move forward. We will take the good things and move forward and take the bad things and learn from them. That's our mindset."

Against the Lightning, nearly everybody on the Flames was off-kilter, to put it politely.

Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was on a strong run with only nine goals allowed in six starts, but that flew out the window. The defence corps, especially Robyn Regehr, was all out of whack. Forwards were coughing up pucks everywhere.

Now comes the mental battle of a seven-game road trip, and because of that bitter taste, expect Kiprusoff to bounce back in a big way, the blueline brigade to regain its form and the forward crew to help in its own zone and benefit from a red-hot Iginla -- six goals and 13 points in six games -- and Michael Cammalleri (four goals and four assists in three games).

It won't be an easy trek, just with the travel. When they return after playing the Toronto Maple Leafs March 14, the Flames will have flown more than 9,600 km -- starting in Ottawa and ending in Toronto with stops in Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta, New Jersey and Detroit.

Still, it's a trip to make hay and keep well ahead of the hard-charging Vancouver Canucks.

Not only are the Flames about to face four non-playoff squads, they're going to be more determined to keep being better road warriors.

The Flames are 4-0-1 away from the Saddledome since the well-publicized visit from GM Darryl Sutter over their road woes.

"Bottom line is you have to win games on the road," Phaneuf said. "It just so happens we're away for a bit of a stretch, but we have to win whether we're at home or on the road. It's no different in the post-season. You need to win on the road to be successful. We have to start taking steps forward and keep on improving."\


Photos