SUN Hockey Pool

Time running out for Flames

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

The Calgary Flames couldn't stop their losing streak, but they may have stopped some of the bleeding.

Predictably, the Flames weren't able to halt their five-game losing streak Thursday night, bowing for the seventh-straight time to a far superior Chicago club.

But despite being outplayed most of the night, the Flames kept the score respectable, setting the table for what could very well be a fruitful three-week stretch.

At least, it better be fruitful.

Only two of the next 11 games the Flames will play before the Olympic break are against teams that entered last night's games in a playoff position: Ottawa and Phoenix — hardly Cup contenders.

That said, neither are the Flames these days.

If the Flames are truly poised to respond to their 9-1 drubbing Monday — and Brent Sutter’s suggestion "enough is enough" — the path couldn't be easier.

Then again, nothing seems to have come easy to the Flames this year.

Last night was no different, as the NHL’s premier club took it to the hosts most of the first two periods with Miikka Kiprusoff keeping things tight and setting the stage for a 1-1 game entering the third.

Buoying fans’ hopes the Flames can regain respectability and still challenge for the division is the goalie whose brilliance Thursday kept the game from getting out of hand early.

Stopping a penalty shot handed to Flames-feaster Patrick Kane and stifling a Jonathan Toews wraparound in the first 20 minutes, Kiprusoff then made a beauty toe save on Marian Hossa and pulled a double-whammy on John Madden, who was stopped by the sprawling ’tender not once but twice.

The Hawks' pressure led to a lucky bounce on Ben Eager's go-ahead goal early in the third — a marker the Flames rarely threatened to match outside of a late shot off the iron by Craig (Hard Luck) Conroy.

Unable to muster more than one shot in the final five minutes, the Flames were booed by many at the Dome after Duncan Keith’s empty-netter made it 3-1.

Six straight losses and 31 games left to show signs of being the contender everyone figured they entered the season as.

Heck, a first-round playoff exit isn’t even a given anymore, as the club is suddenly in a dogfight to make a springtime appearance.

Still, the somewhat respectable effort Thursday might stem the tide of public criticism — a tiny bit anyway.

Questions still need to be asked about what the club does next personnel-wise as Darryl Sutter contemplates whether he needs to reshuffle his deck before the March 3 trade deadline.

Fact is, there are no excuses now.

The team is healthy (OK, Nigel Dawes left the game in the first with an undisclosed ailment), the schedule is fortuitous, the pressure is on and the very real threat of being outside the conference's top eight by Monday’s game is real.

The club's charity poker tourney goes Saturday, and while the team’s recent struggles (and even humiliation) should make it a relatively more subdued event than past years, there’s faint hope better fortunes are in the cards for the team.

Given the way the Flames match up against the Hawks — by far the league’s deepest team — a close game is the best the Flames could've truly hoped for.

The four days until Monday's visit from St. Louis ought to be a little more palatable for the players, given how much better they fared against Chicago than three evenings earlier, when the threat of double-digit damage was very real.

"Little" being the operative word.


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