Flames falling apart at worst time

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

That panic button your hand has been hovering over for the last month -- go ahead and press it if the Flames don't come up with their best effort of the month against the Wild tonight.

Making the playoffs isn't an issue, but the Northwest Division title that seemed like a lock around the all-star break is slipping away.

So is this team's composure.

While the players must -- in an effort to hang on to whatever confidence they have left -- avoid the panic that has no doubt already settled in Calgary with the team returning yesterday from a two-game road trip that was as unsettling as it was brief, they are frustrated.

Signs of it were all around in the abysmal 5-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday.

Slamming his stick against the ice after an offside call in the second period was the most attention-grabbing move Olli Jokinen has made in days.

He wasn't alone in taking his anger out on his blade.

Showing commitment even in the third period when all was already lost, Dustin Boyd blocked a shot, then wondered what he must have been thinking as he skated off in obvious discomfort and whacked his stick over the boards before snapping it with a heavy lean on the bench.

Rough stuff was taking place all over the ice in post-whistle scrums and scraps.

Todd Bertuzzi and Michael Cammalleri were just two of the stars venting with gloved punches as the goals continued to pile up against them.

Going scoreless through Pittsburgh and Columbus, the Flames aren't inspiring any sort of hope from their fans.

With just eight games remaining in the regular-season, you have to wonder where the Flames start in an effort to get better before the playoffs.

The quality of their opponent in the first round is certainly looking like it will improve with a potential drop in the Western Conference standings.

"Right now, it feels pretty terrible, and you get a comment like 'where do you start?' " Cammalleri said in the wake of the embarrassment in Ohio. "You look at it, you gut check, you look at yourself in the mirror and you say, 'What can I do better?' We've got to be very honest with ourselves here on personal levels and ourselves as a team."

Honestly, the Flames might need a visit to the psychiatrist.

Every spring, the march to the playoffs becomes a limp.

It's a good thing the Flames were spectacular for three months to put themselves in a position where, as of yesterday morning, six more points would guarantee them a berth in the post-season, but where is that team that lost just nine games in regulation between December and March?

Put the Flaming C on a milk carton. Poster the streets with offers of reward.

There was a sighting in Pittsburgh, where they played their best road game in a long while, but then they disappeared somewhere en route to Columbus.

Time is running out. Right now, it looks like the Flames are running toward another first-round playoff exit.

That's what has happened in the past when late-season stumbles snatched away their momentum come spring.

"It's time. This is playoffs. We know that," said captain Jarome Iginla.

Fans will settle for a single goal at this point.

You can't help but picture NFL coach Jim Mora and his infamous rant -- "Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!" -- after the recent losses.

Head coach Mike Keenan calls their "little funk" fixable if the team makes "incremental steps" to pay attention to the "details" that earned them what once was an 11-point lead in the division.

"That takes discipline," said Keenan. "And work."

Pull the work boots on for tonight's clash against the Minnesota Wild.

Then give yourselves a kick in the backside.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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