SUN Hockey Pool

Resting easy never an option for Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:01 AM ET

After losing to the Los Angeles Kings in extra time a week ago, the Flames still felt great.

That’s because they battled against a solid Pacific Division team in the hunt for a playoff spot and were defeated in an entertaining 4-3 shootout.

Moreover, they were able to erase three one-goal deficits to force the extra time, were the better team in the third period and basically lost in a coin-flip since the shootout went seven players deep for each team.

They rode that confidence to victories over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the going-nowhere Ottawa Senators to jump into a playoff spot for the first time in more than three months.

Fast-forward to Friday night’s 5-4 overtime defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. For all intents and purposes, the result is the same.

It’s a single point in the standings, and a big one at that since the Flames remain in eighth place in the Western Conference — one point ahead of the Minnesota Wild, who happened upon some late third-period heroics to tie their game before beating the St. Louis Blues 5-4 in a shootout.

But the feeling is different.

The signs are there for the Flames to be a little more concerned as they ready to face the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night in the finale to the Hockey Day in Canada triple-header.

Make that the league-leading Vancouver Canucks, who are smarting from an injury wave ripping through their defence corps and coming off a defeat of their own to the Ducks, 4-3 Wednesday night — their first regulation-time loss at home since the first week of December.

By no means is this a time to say the wheels are going to come off the Flames. They’ve earned the 14-3-5 run which pulled them from 14th place in the conference to a hold on a playoff spot.

But it’s hardly a firm hold.

Yes, you can’t win ’em all, but there are a couple of issues facing the Flames.

First off, the concern is letting one loss become two when you’re on the playoff bubble, which is where the Flames will likely be from now until the end of the season.

(Sure, they can continue this torrid streak, and if they do, all the more power to them, but the law of averages says they’ll slow down.)

It’s how much they slow down to watch for.

Look at the hard-charging Wild.

They’re on the outside looking in despite winning eight of their last 10.

Plus, they’ve skated in three fewer games than Calgary and are on pace to have the Flames beat in the tiebreaker formula it could take to decide who goes the Stanley Cup tournament and who hits the golf course.

Los Angeles and Chicago are both playing middling hockey, but they’re still both just three points back of the Flames, with games in hand.

At this point, you can’t rule out the Columbus Blue Jackets, who aren’t dead yet thanks to a bit of a winning spree.

The other concern is the style of play we’ve seen in recent games. Last season’s Flames couldn’t score but could clamp down. Or at least keep the opposition to a couple of goals more often than not. As their unbeaten-in-regulation string has continued — it’s now at 10 games (8-0-2) — the defensive play has become more loose.

The Flames got away with it against the Senators, who pretty much packed it in once they lost a lead, let alone fell behind. They weren’t so fortunate against an Anaheim squad which has exceeded expectations this season.

The good news for the Flames is so many players are chipping in when the need for a key play has arisen.

Even Rene Bourque broke out of his doldrums against the Ducks.

The test is coming for them all. Gain a stronger defensive game and hold strong when the games become tougher and tougher.

They can ill afford to let that momentum they’ve gained roll backwards.


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