Finally, after more than a month, the Calgary Flames moved up the standings.
When the Flames arrived for Tuesday’s practice, they could look at the board charting all of he NHL’s Western Conference teams and find themselves in 12th place. They’d been sitting 14th ever since losing the first half of a home-and-home series with the Minnesota Wild way back on Dec. 18th.
Monday’s 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators finally meant a change.
“It does feel good to be able to catch a couple of teams and be more in the mix,” said captain Jarome Iginla. “But there’s still a ton of work and it doesn’t change. We have one game before the break, a team around us in the standings. We have to keep our focus, guard against thinking we’re right in it. There’s 32 games left for us.”
It was a trying spell for the Flames, who were ahead of the Wild before losing both halves of that series and ended up on a three-game losing skid.
The Flames went on an 8-3-3 run starting with their Dec. 23 victory over the Dallas Stars, but it only meant going from nine points back of the eighth-place team to five points off the pace.
“I don’t think it was wearing guys down too much,” said centre Brendan Morrison. “I think we’ve all be around long enough to know with this system and the shootouts, teams will get points. And it seems the teams you need to leapfrog will get points.
“That’s why you can’t worry about what they’re doing. You just have to worry about yourself.
“It is nice to see we’ve closed the gap and we’re not eight or nine out any more. Now, it’s doable.”
However, the Flames can’t afford to slow their winning pace, and they know it heading into Wednesday’s clash with the St. Louis Blues.
The key is to not take a step back due to some sense of relief.
“We still have to stay grounded,” said left winger Alex Tanguay. “We look at the standings, and we’re not in a playoff spot yet. Even if we get to a playoff spot, there’s six teams battling for the final spot. Keep playing the same way, improving and winning hockey games.”
And not spend too much time worrying about what other teams are — or aren’t — accomplishing.
“We’ve got to help ourselves — continue to help ourselves, not rely on other teams to control our fate,” Morrison said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to take care of our business. We know we’ve still got a long ways to go here, there’s a lot of teams have to be jumped, but at the end of the day if we take care of our business, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Even after his squad cobbled together a three-game winning streak, Flames head coach Brent Sutter is maintaining the best course of action is to win two of every three games and see where they end up instead of worrying about where they sit.
“That’s been our focus for five weeks or a month now, and it’s not going to change,” Sutter said. “Things can change when you’re not playing, but you have to worry about your own business and do what you need to do.”