CALGARY — Playoffs or not, it was a hell of a run.
To go from 14th in the Western Conference to still being alive in the final week of the season is a remarkable accomplishment, one that the Flames might actually take pride in one day.
Not now. Right now they’re kicking themselves for waiting so long to make their charge.
“We’re making a good run over here, but if we would have played like this all year we’d have 120 points,” said Flames centre Olli Jokinen. “But you know what, it’s an 82-game schedule and after 82 games you see where you’re going to be. Either you get in or you’re not good enough.”
Teams say it every year in October, that you can’t afford to take a single night off because the races are so close in April that one point could mean the difference between getting in or going home.
Never mind getting a game or two back, the Flames would like to hit the re-set button on the entire two-month stretch from late October to late December, when they went 8-15-3.
Think there’s a point or two in that mess that could have changed the entire look of their season?
“I was watching the TV the other day and they said there was one stretch where Toronto had one win in 12 games, five points out of a possible 24,” said Jokinen. “Same thing with us, that one stretch in November and the first half of December.
“We’re a veteran team, we should know that. We’ve been talking all year about how big every game is. Everybody should know how it is, how big every game is.”
They do now.
Head coach Brent Sutter can trace their awakening to the exact day — a 3-2 win over Dallas on Dec. 23.
“From that point on Vancouver had 50 points and we had 48,” he said. “We were right there with the best team in the NHL.
“That was a key game for us, that was a key date for this organization. A key date for everyone to get refocused on doing it the way it needs to be done, the right way, getting everybody to buy into that. It’s been a very solid group from that point on.”
Their torrid stretch drive suggests that maybe the Flames aren’t the organizational train wreck people thought.
“At least we can say that the team wasn’t as bad as people were thinking earlier in the year, that we need to make major changes,” said Jokinen. “I think in the last 50-plus games a lot of the guys proved they can still play in this league, a lot of the players proved they can be impact players. A lot of players proved they want to be part of this team.”
Wait till next year?
“I don’t know if the story is going to get old,” said Jokinen. “You always say, year after year, OK, maybe this is going to be the year. As an athlete that’s how you have to look at it, you have to believe that it’s going to be better the next day and try to do everything possible to make it better.”