SUN Hockey Pool

Full steam ahead for Flames

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:52 PM ET

CALGARY - They’ve come a long way.

But if the Calgary Flames want to keep climbing, they can’t be satisfied with what they’ve already accomplished.

Thanks to a run that started around Christmas and saw them rack up a record of 10-3-3 in their last 16 games before the NHL all-star break, the Flames are within striking distance of a playoff spot.

Two points is all that separates them from three teams tied for the seventh, eighth and ninth seeds in the Western Conference.

Still, to reach their goal of 95 points — a somewhat random number they believe will guarantee them a playoff spot when the regular-season comes to a close April 10 — they can’t afford to look back.

They can’t even look too far forward.

One of the big reasons for their recent success is a narrow focus, as they strive to snag two wins out of every three games.

That’s still the goal. With 31 games remaining and

still 41 points shy of their benchmark, they need to win more than 65% of them (or the equivalent with overtime and shootout losses factored in).

“It’s getting closer,” Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff said in the minutes following their win over the St. Louis Blues before the break. “I think the key thing is how we’ve been playing. If we keep it up, we’re definitely going to be able to go up a few spots right away.”

The Flames shouldn’t peek at the big picture, but we can.

February looks promising.

Although they start on the road against the Predators in Nashville Tuesday and visit the Atlanta Thrashers Thursday, they will get to play nine of their 13 games next month at the Saddledome.

Considering they’ve won eight of their last 12 on home ice and earned points in nine of the last dozen since an embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Canucks Dec. 1, the four- and five-game homestands bode well for the Flames.

They also finish off their contests against the Eastern Conference, which means almost the last quarter of their season will involve huge matchups against division and conference rivals.

A lot can change down the stretch.

March looks a little more lopsided.

The Flames have eight games out of town, including a pair of back-to-back sets. In their favour is the fact they have won five of their last eight games on the road and earned points in six of them.

Nearly every game in March (11 of the 14) comes against teams currently above them in the standings.

Great way to make up more ground, pass opponents and create some more comfortable separation in the conference ranks.

Or, with just a couple of stretches of poor play, a month that could spell the end of their playoff hopes.

The brief April slate doesn’t offer a whole lot of relief. The Flames visit the Blues and Avalanche before returning home to host the Edmonton Oilers and Canucks.

If things are as tight in the standings as expected, those last two games against division rivals who would love nothing more than spoiling the Flames’ post-season hopes could ultimately determine their fate.

Of course, if they make it a race to the finish, it will be more than most Flames fans hoped would be possible just weeks ago.

How well they’ve played to turn that around will be meaningless if they fail to keep it up.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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