BOSTON — Craig Conroy said over and over, the Calgary Flames have to remain positive.
Brent Sutter’s buzzword was believe.
Everyone else on the Flames was singing from the same hymn book Friday when the club practised in the Boston suburbs in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s clash with the Bruins.
The flickering Flames, with their playoff hopes all but up in smoke, want to have faith they can still pull off what appears to now require a small miracle to pull back into the top eight and reach the Stanley Cup tournament.
They want to feel — and prove — they’re capable of closing the gulf between themselves and the clubs in the Western Conference’s playoff positions and actually punching their ticket to the dance.
They also want their fans to be convinced they’ll reach the second season.
That sounds fine and good.
But the question remains: What have they done to make you believe they are a playoff team? (Anybody else hearing that sound of crickets in the background to break up the silence?)
In a season that’s seen them rarely back up the talk with the walk, the Flames are on the verge of the indignity of missing the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2003.
With eight regular-season games remaining, they were four points back of the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings prior to Friday night’s action, six behind the Colorado Avalanche and seven points in arrears of the Los Angeles Kings.
Words of confidence and belief keep ringing out, but unfortunately, they ring hollow because of too many performances which remind you of the phrase coach Sutter said earlier this season: “Too casual.”
Forget for a moment the whole reality of the situation.
None of the teams they hope to reel in — the Red Wings, the Avalanche, the Kings and the Nashville Predators — appear to be on the verge of stumbling.
And we mean really stumbling, akin to the way the Flames saw their grasp on first place on the Northwest Division disappear late last season.
Forget for a moment the Flames have a deficit which essentially requires them to win every game and then receive help.
Just look at how the Flames have shown themselves in do-or-die situations this season.
They’ve done nothing to prove they’re capable of rattling off eight straight wins, especially at this point.
The only consistency this season has been inconsistency.
One game, they come out gangbusters. The next time out, it takes a period to find their legs. Or two periods.
One game, the offence is clicking. Next game, players can’t hit the water from the wharf.
One game, they have a strong shutdown performance. Next game, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is bouncing around to make so many saves he looks like a Whack-A-Mole.
And when it’s become crunch-time — when every game has become bigger than the previous outing — they’ve failed to take a giant step forward.
This year’s Flames squad has started too many games like the opening minutes of Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the host New York Islanders — The Letdown on Long Island — without any spark and determination.
That’s when a team desperate to make the playoffs has to grab a game by the throat and squeeze so tight their opponents’ eyes pop out.
We’re talking about an Islanders team which was manhandled the night before by the New York Rangers. Their confidence was so fragile the Flames could have benefited quickly with a fast start and a killer instinct.
Instead of blasting away with a fervor Al Capone would have been proud to see from his henchmen and their Tommy Guns, the Flames collectively let out a deafening sound of pop-guns.
The effort was akin to their critical loss to the Vancouver Canucks a few weeks ago.
And just like the loss to the Minnesota Wild last week.
We’ve seen it so many times from them.
If the Flames want somebody in their corner telling them they can knock out Apollo Creed, they first have show they have the will to pick themselves off the canvas and find the strength to throw a knockout punch.
It’s understandable to want faith from the faithful.
It’s inappropriate to expect faith to be blind.