Two games against the Western powers over the next few days.
Two weeks for the Flames to make a move that will dictate their direction.
If the Flames really believe their recent four-game winning streak, snapped by Monday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, was anything more than an aberration, they must show it starting with Wednesday night’s game in Vancouver against the Canucks and/or Friday at home versus the Detroit Red Wings.
Want somebody — anybody — to take you seriously? Rattle off a win or two against those teams. Want to make an actual move up the standings? Cobble together a winning streak over the next seven outings.
Otherwise, prepare for the mid-January eulogies and trade winds to blow through the Stampede City.
Sure, it was a step forward for the Flames to ring up four straight wins over Dallas, Buffalo, Colorado and Edmonton, but if they want to convince anyone they’re capable of making a move up the Western Conference charts, beat the best team in the NHL in Vancouver.
“It’s a gauge for us,” centre Brendan Morrison said before heading out to the West Coast. “We feel we’ve been playing pretty good hockey as of late — aside from the first period (Monday) night. These guys are playing the best hockey in the league right now. They don’t really have any weaknesses.
“We have to be sharp.”
The Flames are going with the theory they must win two-thirds of their remaining games to make the playoffs. Which means they can’t afford to allow one loss to become a two-game losing skid.
Or three-game swoon.
Thus the need to win in Vancouver. The Canucks are riding a 15-1-2 run and returned home from sweeping a three-game road trip which went from Dallas to Colorado to San Jose. They now lead the NHL race.
If the Flames are paddled again by Vancouver — the Canucks rattled off a 7-2 win in Saddledome Dec. 1 — the calls for changes will come fast and furious from those who believe it’s time to throw in the towel.
Then again, should the Flames win, there will be a segment who believe.
Still, the way to look at the situation is with a longer lens.
Following the consecutive clashes with the Western Conference’s top two squads, the Flames embark on a four-game road swing with games in Carolina, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal before returning home to face the Minnesota Wild Jan. 19.
Should they manage five wins and actually be close enough to the playoff picture, 12 weeks will have potential.
Should they struggle or even end up sitting about the same, acting GM Jay Feaster will have five-plus weeks to figure out what his trade-deadline plan will entail.
We can guess a few candidates who would be on the trade block, with the first group including pending unrestricted free agents Curtis Glencross, Brendan Morrison, Anton Babchuk, Steve Staios, Adam Pardy and even Alex Tanguay.
The second crew is the players not playing up to snuff: Niklas Hagman or Matt Stajan.And the third bunch to consider would be the core players, with the likes of Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Miikka Kiprusoff all bound to attract interest.