SUN Hockey Pool

Trip to remember for Flames

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:49 PM ET

It wasn’t just all the plane rides that contributed to the many ups and downs on the Calgary Flames’ four-game road trip.

There were blown leads and massive comebacks, a starting goaltender who played only about half the minutes, three overtime periods and a pair of shootouts.

And now that their charter jet has touched down in their own city again, the Flames can look at the journey with pride.

Considering all the adversity they faced — some of it manufactured by their own mistakes, of course — the team fared extremely well.

Six points of a possible eight. Not too shabby.

“Six out of eight on the road? We’ll take that,” Flames winger Alex Tanguay said after a 5-4 overtime loss Monday to the Montreal Canadiens that ended the trip. “We’re in a position where we need to rack up points.”

They did it in interesting fashion on the road swing. It was bookended by games in which they fell behind badly and saw starting netminder Miikka Kiprusoff pulled by head coach Brent Sutter, but they found ways to come back and force overtime with Henrik Karlsson between the pipes.

Kicking things off in Carolina, the Flames twice gave up leads and then found themselves behind by three in the second period after a soft goal by Eric Staal beat Kiprusoff, sparking a mini-goalie controversy when the Finn was criticized by Sutter for his recent stretch of miscues. They came back against the Hurricanes but lost 6-5 in a shootout to start the week with a single point.

The trip ended in Montreal, where the Flames erased a four-goal deficit after Kiprusoff was given a merciful yank by a coach desperate to change momentum. Karlsson was then beaten in overtime to end the comeback.

Battling through a scoreless game in Toronto thanks in a big way to Kiprusoff’s bounce-back netminding after sitting out a 3-2 win over the Senators in Ottawa — a game in which they piled up a three-goal lead and clung to it desperately over the final 10 minutes — the Flames thought they’d beaten the Maple Leafs on Matt Stajan’s late goal.

But a powerplay goal with less than 13 seconds to go in regulation forced the Flames to find a way to win a 2-1 decision over the Maple Leafs in a shootout.

Because of the rollercoaster ride that took them from period to period and game to game, Sutter was pleased with the point total and the team’s overall performance.

“We’ve got to go home feeling good about ourselves,” Sutter said before boarding the plane that would bring them back to Calgary. “There’s some confidence in that room. We believe.”

They woke up in their beds Tuesday morning still stuck in 14th spot in the NHL’s Western Conference, six points out of a playoff spot.

But they have learned they can’t concern themselves about the big picture and how many teams sit between them and the eighth seed. It’s part of the reason they’ve gone 6-2-3 in their last 11 games and have earned at least a point in their last five.

With another handful of games to play before the brief all-star break at the end of the month, they have another small segment of tasks on their minds.

“We wanted to be a .500 hockey team before we went on the trip — we wanted to be back to .500 before we got home,” Flames centre Olli Jokinen said after the loss in Montreal. “In the big picture, you would like to be three, four games over .500 before you go to the break. But in the little picture, the only thing we can worry about is winning the next game.”

Each of those next five contests come against teams ahead of them in the conference standings.

Four of them are at home.

“We can’t waste any time,” Jokinen said. “We’ve got to make the move and climb up in the standings.”

If they keep having success in spite of the ups and downs bound to hound them, they’ll do just that.

If they somehow beat the odds and climb right back into the playoff race, they can look at this road trip as a defining moment.

“To get six out of eight points, it’s a good trip,” Sutter said. “It’s a trip that any team would take.”

Right now, his team looks like a much improved one.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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