It's the day of the biggest game of the season.
Although many people figure the Calgary Flames will need to win all five remaining games to stay in the playoff hunt, the skaters insist they're not looking past Wednesday's crucial clash with the Anaheim Ducks at the Saddledome.
“We can't win five tonight,” said Flames defenceman Steve Staios. “We're going to have to win tonight. That's the whole focus. That's the message — the game is important tonight, as it was last game, as it was the game before.”
Heading into Wednesday's showdown, the Ducks (43-28-5) are sitting in seventh spot in the Western Conference standings with 91 points, while the Flames (38-28-11) have fallen outside of the elite eight and are now tied for ninth with the Dallas Stars with 87 points apiece.
Although the Ducks and eighth-place Chicago Blackhawks (90 points) each have a game in hand and the Stars have two, the Flames are optimistic they can still punch a post-season ticket.
In fact, as captain Jarome Iginla chatted with reporters after Wednesday's optional morning skate at the Saddledome, Pearl Jam's Alive — the hit song with the chorus that repeats 'I'm still alive' several times — blasted from a back room.
“This is — it goes without saying — the biggest game of our year, and it's exciting,” Iginla said. “Our playoffs have started and we have an opportunity to really get an important win and move up in the standings, but also gain some big momentum. We know we need 'em all, but we're very excited about this opportunity.”
The Flames are winless in three games against the Ducks this season, although each game has been decided in a shootout or overtime.
They can't afford to give the out-of-towners even a single point this time, not if they want to catch and leapfrog the Ducks in the standings.
After Wednesday's game, the Flames will hit the road for contests against two non-playoff teams — the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche.
“It's irrelevant who we’re playing right now. We have to win every game,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “We have to take it one at a time and pick away at it. We have to focus in on the one game and go to the next. We don’t care about who our opponent is Friday or Sunday. We just want to focus on our opponent tonight.”
When Calgary and Anaheim met a week and a half ago, the Ducks scored three times in the first six minutes.
In fact, the Flames have surrendered the first goal in their past four outings. After Saturday's come-from-behind victory over the Edmonton Oilers, they admitted they can't keep digging an early hole.
“They've all been really big games and it's kind of been the first 10 minutes, we've come out and have just kind of felt out the game and haven't been moving the puck the same way or skating the same way, and then once we get into it, we're good to go,” Iginla said. “It's not that nobody knows the importance or anything like that, so I think it's just adjusting that. Hey, we've talked about it — we've got nothing to lose. People counted us out and gave us no chance at Christmastime, and we battled back and we found a way to keep coming back. We've just got to keep believing we will.
“I think each time you go through it, it's a little bit more experience. These games all keep getting bigger and bigger, so we just keep learning from it and just keep going.”