SUN Hockey Pool

Flames' "big" games only getting bigger

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:11 PM ET

The words seemed awfully harsh for a team which has cobbled together a 12-3-4 run to pull within a whisker of a playoff spot.

The Flames need “to win the big games when called upon” was the tweet fired off by a fan — we have to believe it was a fan — moments after they lost Saturday’s shootout 4-3 to the Los Angeles Kings.

Those words make for a tough marker since it was a game in which the Flames rang at least three shots off the iron during the seven-round shootout. A centimetre difference in the right direction and the Flames would be sitting eighth in the Western Conference with a seven-game winning streak.

Besides, you don’t go on a run like they have without winning “big” games. Victories over Dallas (third in the conference), Nashville (fourth in the West) and Vancouver (first overall in the league) in a four-day span a couple of weeks ago would qualify.

So would wins over Nashville and Atlanta coming out of the all-star break.

Considering how dire it was in mid-January, every win has been of utmost importance.

That being said, there is a fair point being made. The Flames must win more “big” games over the final 28 of the season to make the playoffs.

Many, many more, which everybody knows.

Not known is whether they can or will do it, and only time will tell.

At least it appears they have the fortitude to make the final jump.

That couldn’t be said throughout November, when the Flames went on that swoon that landed them in 14th place in the Western Conference for the better part of three months.

That spell started with a 6-5 loss to Colorado — Craig Conroy’s 1,000th game, in which they blew leads of 3-1 and 4-3 in Henrik Karlsson’s home debut — to finish the first 10 games of the season at 6-4-0.

The Flames proceeded to lose seven of eight games — all in regulation — and mustered a 6-12-3 stretch into mid-December which put them nearly last in the Western Conference

Of those 15 defeats, 10 were by one goal and two others were two-goal differences due to an empty netter against.

Leads were regularly being gassed, and they couldn’t seem to find the key goal to come back.

Fast forward to today, as the Flames prepare to play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Through this stretch, the Flames have shown the resiliency we expected to see from the start of the season.

The Flames may be among the oldest teams in the league, but through the first thirtysome games, they are among the most fragile.

Instead of being savvy enough to remain calm when behind or be on the wrong side of a lucky break, they’d almost crumble before your eyes.

It’s been the opposite lately, with many comebacks over the past few weeks, even in losses.

“It’s believing, believing that we can do it, no matter what the situation is in games. (Saturday night) we stayed with our gameplan,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “It’s a good feeling knowing the guys think they can do it and have the confidence they can do it. We’d rather not be down, but knowing when we get in situations like that we can fight back is good.”

They’ll lose more games in the coming nine weeks. They’ll even likely have a losing skid.

Through it all, they must find the fortitude to climb into the top eight and, more importantly, remain there.

It’s as much a mental hurdle as physical barrier.

All that experience the Flames have should be their best weapon down the stretch.

“Just keep playing well. That’s all you can do. You can’t do any more than that,” Sutter said of his advice. “You know the games are going to be big games, and you’ll be playing opponents when everybody’s going to be fighting for those spots.”

Every game is now a big game. The Flames can’t win them all, but have given reason to believe they can win enough of them.

It’s a big part of the battle.


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