SUN Hockey Pool

Flames not panicking...yet

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:24 PM ET

DENVER -- The perch among the Western Conference's elite eight lasted less than a week.

When the Calgary Flames returned to their dressing room following Saturday night's loss to the Vancouver Canucks, they knew they were back on the outside of a playoff spot.

Panic time?

Not based on their body language after the 4-2 defeat in the Hockey Day in Canada finale.

"We expect it to be a battle right until the end," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "If you don't win, you know you're moving down, and if you win, you're probably gaining a point on somebody because everybody's playing each other.

"It's not the big-picture stuff we're looking at. That hasn't helped us in the past. And it doesn't matter where we are tomorrow. It matters where we are at the end of the season. We just get back at it after getting some rest and be ready to bring our game.

"We knew we weren't going to win every single game from here on out, and we've been able to have strong rebound games all year. Now, we're going to need one."

The Flames need to win Monday night against the struggling Colorado Avalanche.

They need two out of every three the rest of the way.

Breaking down the mathematics for the Flames with 24 games remaining, they have 64 points. To reach the 96 believed to be enough to make them a playoff team, that means racking up 32 more points.

Yes, it's akin to winning two out of every three.

"We've got to get to 95 or 96 points -- we'd like more -- but somewhere around there will probably be a playoff spot," Iginla said. "That's the two-out-of-three we've talked about and we'll stay with that. Being in a playoff spot or out a playoff spot today or tomorrow, that doesn't change our approach for our next game."

The good news for the Flames is they've actually been better than the goal of .667 in their last 23 games, with the 14-4-5 run pulling them from the depths into striking distance of a playoff spot.

Now, does anybody want the bad news?

Going into Sunday's action, all eight teams currently in the Western Conference's top eight are on pace for more than 96 points.

Four of them -- Phoenix, San Jose, Anaheim and Minnesota -- are en route to something between 96 and 97, but you get the picture.

The Flames need to make hay and get some help. Fortunately, the five Pacific Division teams realistically battling for playoff spots have plenty of games against each other.

Don't kid yourself, Flames head coach Brent Sutter knows it's a tall order but won't look at the big picture.

Besides, his team can't be written off right now after recovering from where they were before their final game before Christmas, which was the comeback 3-2 shootout win in Dallas.

"We've done a pretty darn good job having that mindset and been successful, so we won't change," Sutter said. "We still need to win our games. We still need to take care of our business, and the standings will continue to look after themselves. We know where we need to get to, we know what it's going to take for points and how we need to play.

"We're down to 24 games and it's important we have success, but just play well and we'll give ourselves a chance."

Considering all five Pacific Division teams are in the dog fight, the Flames have plenty of say regarding their own future. They have nine games remaining against the Pacific clubs.

Sutter, however, is quick to point out whether games are against divisional or conference rivals is irrelevant.

"It's conference games now with the way the standings are set up," he said. "Sure we'd love to be first in our division, but it comes down to how we play in our games remaining."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca twitter.com/RandySportak


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