SUN Hockey Pool

Things looking up for Flames

The Calgary Flames ran hot in December giving them a shot at climbing back into a playoff spot. Al...

The Calgary Flames ran hot in December giving them a shot at climbing back into a playoff spot. Al Charet/QMI Agency

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:04 AM ET

Last year’s failures weren’t due to the inability of the Calgary Flames to keep up their hot play late in the season.

As unrealistic as their charge from Dec. 28 to early March might have seemed, it might have been enough if the wins came against teams ahead of them in the NHL standings during that second half surge of the 2010-11 campaign that ultimately left them a few points shy of a playoff spot for the second consecutive year.

So anyone looking for a silver lining on the current season, search no further than the club’s last two performances before the Christmas break.

Beating the Detroit Red Wings at home one night and the Vancouver Canucks on the road the next is an accomplishment few thought possible outside the Flames locker-room.

In a moment of brutal honesty, even some of the players might admit the double-bill was a heavy burden just before the break.

Coming away with all four points, plus giving up none to either opponent, gave the Flames every reason to feel good about themselves as they opened their Christmas gifts on the weekend.

It gave their fans hope.

Expecting them to win every game against the top teams in the Western Conference from now until the season ends in April isn’t very realistic. But for maybe the first time this year, even the most pessimistic skeptics can look at the Flames team and say the playoffs aren’t a pipe-dream.

They woke up on Boxing Day sitting in 10th spot in the Western Conference with 38 points, just two behind the Nashville Predators in eighth and another single in arrears of the Dallas Stars.

Even the Canucks and the Red Wings are within striking distance given a modest winning streak.

They get their first chance to catch up during a long stretch of road games thanks to the world junior hockey championship taking over the Saddledome until January.

Games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New York Islanders, the Ottawa Senators, the Nashville Predators, the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins get progressively more difficult, so it’s critical the Flames get off to a good start and continue playing the way they did against the Wings and the Canucks before the break briefly brought them home to their families.

It was a structured and stifling defence-first gameplan that earned them victories in the back-to-back set.

Neither the Wings nor the equally if not more talented Canucks could mount much of an attack. In fact, for the first two periods of both contests, it seemed the opposition barely touched the puck beyond their own ends.

With a feisty forecheck and a cerebral setup in the neutral zone, the Flames created turnovers, wore down opponents, blocked shots and passes with bodies and sticks at every opportunity and completely muted big names such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, John Tavares, Jason Spezza and Alex Ovechkin are some of the stars they’ll face over the next two weeks, but as cliche as it sounds when coming constantly out of the mouths of players and coaches, it really is less about the opponents and more about how the Flames play.

And if they continue to do it in the manner that has earned them three straight victories and points in eight of their last 10 — and in 12 of their past 15 — the points will keep on coming.

So will their gradual rise in the standings.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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