Got to beat everyone

STEVE MACFARLANE, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 PM ET

Happy with their effort, the Calgary Flames don’t care if the result was ugly.

Happy with the win, their fans aren’t about to complain.

But a 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night was something the Flames had to do to continue their push for the playoffs.

More than that, it was something they should be expected to do.

The Flames beat a team below them in the standings.

A team with even less a chance at making the post-season than the Flames themselves — and their own opportunity is still marginal despite the slim two-point deficit they woke up facing Wednesday morning.

Isn’t that what a playoff team has to do?

Whether or not the Flames ultimately finish in the Western Conference’s top eight will depend largely on the big games remaining on the schedule.

Beating the Ducks ... so what?

Wow your fans with a big win on the road against the Washington Capitals this weekend.

Make an impression against the Phoenix Coyotes when you return home next week.

Take points away from the Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks next month as the noose tightens and the nine-game stretch narrows to just a few, then two, then the finale against the Canucks in Vancouver.

Of course, the Flames have to take care of business in the ones that fall in between.

Games against the New York Islanders Thursday night, the Boston Bruins Saturday and another contest against the Minnesota Wild lay between those monster meetings with the Coyotes, Blackhawks, Sharks, Avs and Canucks.

But it’s what the Flames show in the marquee matchups that will determine whether or not they deserve to be a playoff team.

Those will also go a long way in proving they can compete with the top seeds if they manage to make it into the Stanley Cup tournament.

They’ve seen mixed results in those kind of showdowns all season long.

One of those teams — the Hawks, Coyotes, Sharks or Canucks — will host the Flames if they squeak into the seventh or eighth spot.

Losses in any of their last head-to-head battles could eliminate the Flames from the playoffs altogether.

Games like the one against the Ducks will no longer suffice. They need to be playing their best hockey right now. Boring is fine, but it might not get the job done against the elite teams that can roll more than one talented line.

Efforts like the 6-5 overtime loss in Chicago early in the season, the embarrassing 7-1 pounding at the hands of the Hawks in November, or the 9-1 thrashing in San Jose in January have to be a thing of the past.

The Flames have to play the way they did in their most impressive outings of the year.

Their 5-0 win over the Nashville Predators at the end of November.

A determined 2-1 win over the Sharks early in December.

The gutsy 3-2 shootout victory in Vancouver in January.

More recently, the head-to-head battle with the Red Wings in Detroit, and that incredible 4-3 triumph over the Sharks at the Saddledome bring to mind the kind of hockey we’ll have to see from the Flames if they want to be standing on the blueline listening to the national anthem next month, or on a tee box listening to the sound of graphite shafts cutting through the spring air on the golf course.

There are nine games to go.

Sets of nine holes are all they have to look forward to if they don’t bring their absolute best the rest of the way.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

CIRCLE THESE DATES

Potential previews of the Flames’ first round

March 31 — Phoenix Coyotes at Calgary Flames

April 4 — Calgary Flames at Chicago Blackhawks

April 6 — San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames

April 10 — Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks


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