The NHL season has long been referred to as a marathon, not a sprint.
Is it possible the Calgary Flames have hit Heartbreak Hill and ran out of juice.
The Flames have been so good for so long while battling to make up for their early season struggles.
However, it’s not impossible to imagine they’ve collectively hit the wall, akin to Boston Marathon runners who see their race all but come to an end while climbing the infamous Heartbreak Hill after the 20th mile.
The Flames lost three straight in regulation for the first time since mid-December, and have lacked the necessary jump from start to finish in each of those contests. It’s a classic sign of a team running on empty.
Although, don’t tell them that theory.
Defenceman Cory Sarich made the kind of face you’d expect when someone’s bit into a lemon.
“People might say that, but I don’t like it,” Sarich replied. “This is an exciting time. There are 10 games left. It’s not to hard to get out there and give it. If you don’t, you’re done and you can sit around and stew about it all summer.
“It shouldn’t be too hard to get up for games. It would be different if you gave it for a month and a team runs out of gas, but it’s become part of our game. We were doing things the right way.
“It’s just wanting to go out there and do it.”
There should be no doubt the Flames want to pull out of their skid.
They’ve earned that much credit by going on a torrid run which pulled them from 14th spot in the Western Conference as late as mid-January and into the playoff chase dogfight.
Look at the clubs which they’ve overtaken. Some of them — Colorado, St. Louis, Columbus — have fallen by the wayside with more than three weeks remaining in the regular season.
However, the physical and emotional toll it takes to compile a 22-6-6 record after being written off, can be too much to overcome.
Or is it?
“It can’t be the case,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “If that’s the case, then things look bleak for us. We’ve got to push and keep driving.
“We’re not the only team that’s in this situation. We’ve got other teams pushing and pulling here, too. I know we’ve been doing it since December, but that was the situation we were in. That was the only choice we had, get turned around and get going so we can be in this situation.
“Now that we’re here, we can’t let it slip. This is where we even got to go to the next level.
“We’ve put ourselves in a tremendous situation and guys have worked extremely hard and done it the right way, played the game the right way, to allow themselves this opportunity. Now, let’s not let it slip away.”
To his credit, Sutter has done all he can throughout the year to ensure his charges are as fresh as possible. He’s given the players more days off than past coaches could imagine.
Which is why the players won’t buy the theory their team is trying to play while the needle is on ‘E’.
“I don’t believe it, not if you look after yourself as an individual and look after yourself as a team, get prepared for the games,” Staios said. “You just get ready for one game and that’s it at this point of the season.
“You need that outlook to keep the energy and the focus where it needs to be.”
Only time will tell if they have enough energy.