There is a theory making the rounds concerning the Calgary Flamesí inability to play under pressure.
When you stand back and look at their body of work this season, itís a tough theory to dispute.
But we will try.
Consider the trends: in the pre-season, when the games meant nothing, the Flames managed to rack up one of the leagueís best records.
Expectations rose, prompting a start that found the club struggling so badly it sat 14th in the West before Christmas.
Admitting openly they put too much pressure on themselves and failed throughout the first half, the players changed their attitude as the hockey world wrote their season off. They responded by relaxing and winning, piecing together one of the most improbable and impressive runs in franchise history.
With a change in approach the underachievers turned overachievers; a bad team was suddenly good.
However, then the game started meaning something to everyone else and as the pressure intensified down the stretch the Flames faltered to the point theyíre now likely one loss away from playoff race elimination.
The Pressure Theorists will suggest that with one win in their last seven games the Flames simply buckled.
It says here they simply arenít good enough.
The prognosticators were right all along - this is a fringe team that just so happened to go through wild mood swings to land exactly where the masses predicted: in the mix for the eighth playoff spot.
Fact is, these players and their coaching staff deserve endless praise for their gutsy return to respectability.
When least expected Brent Sutterís bunch made watching Flames hockey exciting again.
Although not as skilled or deep as any of the teamís theyíre chasing for the final playoff spot, their heart and revamped attitude lifted them to impressive heights.
Their overtime losses in Anaheim and Los Angeles Sunday and Monday days perfectly encapsulated their season: close but unable to finish the job. Great road efforts that fell a post or penalty call short.
The gut-wrenching nature of their loss in Anaheim made their gritty showing in L.A. 24 hours later all the more impressive, demonstrating just how tenacious these Flames can be. They really seem to believe thereís no deficit they canít overcome and that includes the monster three-point gap separating the Flames from a playoff spot heading into action last night. (A tie for eighth does them no good).
However, the reality is that now games are being played with playoff intensity ó a level the Flames seem incapable of succeeding at against the big boys due to a depth problem most teams in the league could overcome.
When Greg Nemisz, Ales Kotalik and Lance Bouma are the best your farm team has to offer, itís clear the Flames are in tough.
Yes, the loss of impressive first-line centre Brendan Morrison and his replacement David Moss hurt, but when a training camp pickup and a third-line winger converted to a centre are that crucial, the writing is on the wall. (Fact is, it was their defence, not the lack of offence, that has been their undoing of late). Donít forget, the Flames went the entire season without any significant injuries, making it tough to use as an excuse.
They just didnít have the horses.
Instead of being labeled chokers for their results the last fortnight, they should get full marks for overcoming tremendous odds to even make it interesting down the stretch.
When the pressure was on they didnít fold, they just simply arenít good enough.
Yet, somehow, few would be surprised if the Flames did actually win all six games left to finish with 97 points. After all, when everyone figures the Flames will zig, theyíve zagged this year.
Still, itís clear it wonít be enough.
And pressure has nothing to do with it.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBCís Hockey Night in Canada