Days removed from their actual elimination, the fact the Calgary Flames are set to play their last game of the season still doesn’t seem real to winger Alex Tanguay.
“It doesn’t,” the 31-year-old said with a shake of his head after the team’s final full practice before ending the season Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks at the Dome.
“There’s definitely a ton of frustration still. You look back at what we could have done differently, and you play it over and over in your mind.”
It’s too late to change their fate — a second straight season without playoff hockey. It’s not too late to make the decision to go out on a high note, with a win over the Canucks.
“We want to finish this off the right way. We’ve been a pretty determined and resilient team here in the last three months. Absolutely, we want to win,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “I understand the stakes aren’t the same, but there’s still a lot of motivation to play well.”
Tanguay admits it’s bit of a struggle after Wednesday night’s action saw them mathematically taken out of the post-season equation despite winning 6-1 over the Edmonton Oilers.
“I’m not gonna lie to you guys, it’s certainly going to be difficult to find the motivation that we had the last few weeks,” Tanguay said. “But we want to be professional about it.”
If the Flames need a final goal to help in that regard, they should start goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and give him the opportunity to overtake Mike Vernon as the all-time franchise leader for victories between the pipes.
“I don’t know who’s playing, but if he is — absolutely, we’d like to see him get it,” said Jarome Iginla. “He’s definitely earned it.”
The Finn tied Vernon with his 262nd victory Wednesday.
“It’s cool. It’s a pretty good number,” Kiprusoff said outside the Father David Bauer Arena. “That’s what you try to do — win the games.
“It was nice to tie him and I hope I have many more years to break it and make it look better.”
It seems plenty of time for that remains with a few years remaining on Kiprusoff’s contract, and Sutter says he won’t determine who he will start in goal until talking to both Kiprusoff and Henrik Karlsson Saturday morning.
So it’s possible the team won’t be given a shot at winning one for the Kipper.
“I think that’s one of the motivation things, but with that being said, if Miikka’s gonna play, we need Miikka to be engaged in a game like he would be treating any other game,” Sutter said. “There’s other things with Miikka, too. I want to make sure he’s 100%. We’ll have that discussion with him in the morning.”
Either way, the bench boss wants to see a squad intent on ending the season positively in front of their home fans.
Last year, they limped away from Vancouver with a 7-3 thrashing in their regular-season swansong.
“We got beat up pretty bad. To be quite honest, that’s something that stuck in my head for a lot of the summer — how we lacked urgency and we lacked motivation in the game and everything involved in it,” recalled Sutter.