If you want to be considered a contender, you might want to knock one down during crunch time.
The Calgary Flames have stayed in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race without a great deal of success recently against the teams they are chasing.
Since the Heritage Classic Feb. 20, the Flames have a mediocre 2-4-3 record against teams currently ahead of them in the West.
The two wins came back on March 6 at home against Nashville and three nights later in a shootout at Dallas.
In the month since playing on outdoor ice at McMahon Stadium, the Flames have lost in regulation to Phoenix (twice), Vancouver and Chicago, while they had a shootout loss to San Jose.
The biggest blows came Sunday and Monday when they dropped overtime and shootout decisions to Anaheim and Los Angeles.
They also lost at home to the one Eastern Conference playoff team, the Boston Bruins, they faced during this stretch.
So that’s what makes Wednesday’s meeting with the San Jose Sharks a potential turning point in the season.
Lose and the Flames are mired in 10th with six games remaining (while most everyone else will have about eight left).
A win would prove to everyone — themselves even — that the Flames actually deserve a playoff spot, and the two points would certainly help, too.
Four of the remaining six games after Wednesday are against 13th-place St. Louis (road), 14th-place Colorado (road) and 15th-place Edmonton (home and away).
They do get the Ducks at home again next Wednesday and finish the season off against the Vancouver Canucks, but they could be Presidents’ Trophy winners by then and resting for the first round. Certainly, the Flames played the Ducks and Kings tight over the past two outings, but they couldn’t deliver the goods in the clutch.
Had they given up after getting down 3-0 in Anaheim Sunday, the season would surely be on the brink of ending right now, but the resilient group managed to fight back and take the lead, eventually losing in the extra session.
When the Kings finally opened the scored midway through the third period Monday, Olli Jokinen quickly responded with a breakaway goal, but nothing was decided until the skills competition.
Playing tight, playoff-style hockey only matters if you can come out on top occasionally.
This is a stiff part of the schedule, and the Flames have picked up just one win in the past six games, with that victory against a depleted Avalanche.
The Flames are losing the war of attrition, as well, as Niklas Hagman went down in Monday’s loss against the Kings.
The team called up Greg Nemisz from Abbotsford Tuesday, but with the likes of Brendan Morrison, David Moss and Freddy Modin already shelved, the cupboard is looking bare.
If Hagman is out, the fourth-line wingers are AHLers Lance Bouma and Nemisz, who would be playing his first NHL game.
Maybe Daymond Langkow can be rushed back into action, but how much can he be expected to contribute after more than a year away?
Unlike Anaheim, where the Flames have a terrible history, or against the Kings, which came on the second night of a back-to-back, there is no excuse going to be given against the Sharks.
The Flames need to bring some thunder and lay some haymakers or this heavyweight battle will be a quick and easy decision.