In a season filled with make-it-or-break-it spells, the Calgary Flames are facing their biggest 12-game stretch yet.
The Flames have managed what seemed impossible by climbing from the depths of the Western Conference to the top eight.
Even more impressive, they’ve gained something of a hold on a playoff spot.
Now, the Flames have 14 games remaining on the docket, but eight of their next 12 are on the road, starting with Wednesday’s clash in Dallas against the Stars.
With the season coming down to the crunch, and all those other clubs battling for playoff berths holding games in hand, it’ll take a major effort to pull through it alive.
To punch a card to the playoffs, they must pull through the road-heavy dirty dozen on a similar roll to what we’ve witnessed for the past while.
“It’s been make-or-break the whole season, at least since November and December,” said defenceman Cory Sarich. “Nothing’s changed for us, so we’re approaching things the exact same way. We’re just trying to win hockey games.”
The Flames have certainly done plenty of winning since their last visit to Big D.
Starting with their Dec. 23 come-from-behind 3-2 shootout victory, they’ve gone on an eye-catching 21-6-6 tear. During that spell, they’ve been essentially as strong on the road as they’ve been at home.
Starting with the Dallas game, the Flames have cobbled together a 9-2-3 road record. Prior to that game, they were a miserable 5-11-3 away from the Sea of Red.
“If you’re going to be successful, you have to win everywhere. If you just win at home and not on the road, you’ll be a .500 team and that doesn’t cut it,” Sarich said. “You have to be a .600-plus team to get into the playoffs. It has to be a place where you win hockey games.”
So what changed?
“Everything,” Sarich replied. “Everything turned around. Our work ethic got better. Our application got better — making sure we’re out there 60 minutes and giving ’er. I don’t think it’s specific to our road game, though. It’s been at home and on the road and resulted in us winning some games.”
Head coach Brent Sutter has spent his entire tenure in Calgary preaching about the importance of sticking with the program night after night, be it at home or on the road.
Could it be a case of that message sinking in?
“Our overall play has been more consistent,” said centre Matt Stajan. “We needed something to spark us and when we tied that game in Dallas, it seemed to spark us and it’s been rolling from there.
“You want to point your finger at what exactly it is, but it’s a number of things, and you try not to change it.
“It’s a challenge to keep it going, but this whole process has been a challenge since Christmas. We’ve accepted it and want to make sure we pass the challenge and move on, which means into the playoffs.”