Flames movin' on up

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

It was in a locker stall in Ottawa defenceman Steve Staios said the Calgary Flames wanted to make this an “epic story.”

His team was nine points out of eighth in the Western Conference standings, nowhere near the playoffs.

They’d won four times and earned points in six of their previous eight games since coming up with a master plan that broke down the rest of their season into small segments. They knew before a Dec. 23 game against the Dallas Stars they needed to win two of every three contests.

They were pretty much on target, but the gap wasn’t closing. The nine-point deficit from Dec. 22 was still nine on Jan. 13.

“It’s a slow process moving up, but if we stay with two out of three, that’ll be around 95 points and give you a shot (at the playoffs),” captain Jarome Iginla said two weeks ago, before a victory against the Senators saw them creep one point closer.

They followed up with another win the next night in Toronto, lost an overtime heartbreaker in Montreal, got blown out by the Minnesota Wild when they returned home, but then ripped off four straight victories — making them one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the all-star break.

They’ve gone 10-3-3 since setting their sights on the smaller picture rather than the overwhelming heights they would have to scale.

That epic climb has brought them to within just two points of the eighth seed and a playoff position.

Not a bad beginning for Staios’ epic story.

Not a bad ending before the break.

“The accomplishment didn’t start in the last three or four games. It’s something we’ve been building towards,” head coach Brent Sutter said Wednesday night after they tied a season-high four-game winning streak with a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues. “Since Dec. 23, we’ve had a pretty good roll going. We’re on a good string.

“We’ve had the odd game where we haven’t played as well, but our team has worked and competed hard. We’ve found ways to win games and that’s really important. We’ve found ways to win tight games. We’ve found ways to score goals to win games more handily than we have in the past, which is an encouraging sign. I like the way the team is jelling and how we’re playing as a group. The team thing is very important. We seem to find our way with it.”

With that, they’ve found a way to make themselves relevant again in playoff talks.

“Three or four weeks ago, things looked a lot more dire than they do right now,” said defenceman Adam Pardy.

But they all know there’s still no room for error. Peeking at the big picture again would be a huge mistake when, clearly, what’s been working for them is their narrow focus.

“We have to continue to do what we’re doing. We have to keep climbing the ladder,” Pardy said. “We can’t be satisfied with what we’ve done. We haven’t done anything yet.

“We’re still out of a playoff spot.”

Yes, but not by much.

One more good week, and they’ll have a taste of eighth or better — something they haven’t had since Oct. 29, right before they were pounded 7-2 by the Washington Capitals at the Saddledome in one of their worst performances of the season.

“We’re playing pretty well and it’s a good feeling in the locker-room,” said winger Tim Jackman. “It would be nice to have another game, but everybody will enjoy the rest.

“We will feel good when we get back.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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