SUN Hockey Pool

Flames plucky or lucky?

STEVE MACFARLANE, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:22 AM ET

Turmoil and turnover followed up by a massive tease.

If a fourth-straight win by the Calgary Flames hasn’t convinced you they’re a serious playoff contender — maybe even a team that has a shot against one of the top clubs they’ll be up against in the first round should they qualify for the post-season — it’s probably because you’ve seen this act before.

The story of this topsy-turvy season has been aggravating inconsistencies.

Solid stretches working Flames fans into a fever before the wheel falls off the cart and the bandwagon empties.

With games against the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks all coming in a six-night span next week, we’ll quickly find out what these Flames are made of.

We thought we knew when they opened the regular season with four straight wins.

Of course, two of them were against the Edmonton Oilers, and the team promptly followed that hot start off with three consecutive losses — including an unthinkable collapse against the Blackhawks in Chicago that saw the hosts come back from a five-goal deficit to claim a 6-5 decision in overtime.

On fire again in November, the Flames again claimed four in a row to start the month, and took five of their first seven games before being brought back to earth by a humbling

7-1 loss to the Blackhawks at the Saddledome.

The only thing louder than the boos following that stinker were the sounds of ankles snapping as a batch of fans hopped off the bandwagon.

Whether it’s cockiness, complacency, a sense of entitlement or some combination of those bad boys, it winds up costing them.

Just when they seem the hottest, they go down in Flames.

So why does this streak feel different? Could the Flames finally have their stuff together with their backs against the wall and the playoffs less than a month away?

Maybe.

Here’s why: Effort.

A willingness to sacrifice both to score goals and defend against them. Never more evident than in Thursday night’s 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators, when the Flames blocked 30 shots and got goals from Jamal Mayers and Christopher Higgins to come away with a victory, the balance between offence and defence has come together for the first time.

Miikka Kiprusoff has been stellar all season, but before GM Darryl Sutter turned over almost half his active roster between the end of January and the trade deadline, he was alone in his consistency.

He’s had company lately.

The Flames are 7-4-1 since the overhaul began, and the eight newcomers are pulling their weight.

Defencemen Steve Staios and Ian White, and forwards Christopher Higgins and Jamal Mayers have been feisty competitors, with Ales Kotalik’s work ethic is better than advertised. Matt Stajan has found a groove on the top line, and Niklas Hagman is capable of adding offence.

Vesa Toskala is a more convincing backup than Curtis McElhinney, and should see more starts down the stretch.

We’ll see if the new-look Flames can keep the streak going during arguably the toughest week of their season.

More importantly, we’ll find out if they deal with success differently than the version of the Flames that was stripped apart.


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