CALGARY - The seemingly elusive playoff spot is once again almost within the grasp of the Calgary Flames.
Not that they can allow themselves a sense of relief.
“That would be a bit premature,” said Flames winger Lee Stempniak. “It’s nice to see the progress, closing that gap, but at the same time, there’s going to be four or five teams fighting for the one or two spots at the bottom (of the playoff positions).
“This is the beginning of the push. We’ve positioned ourselves well and just have to keep winning games.”
Just over two weeks ago, following their disastrous six-game post-Christmas road trip which ended with that 9-0 shellacking at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the Flames were six points back of the Western Conference’s elite eight.
The response was to compile a 5-1-1 record in the last seven tilts, which includes the recent three-game trip in which they claimed five of a possible six points and earned a day off Sunday before returning to game action Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks.
Before the puck dropped on Sunday’s late clash between the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks, the Flames were just two points back of the No. 8 position.
“We know there’s a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s encouraging,” said Flames forward Brendan Morrison. “We have to make a move now — we’ve been saying that for months, haven’t we? — but our game lately has been really good.
“Since that tough road trip, we’ve been consistent.”
“Everyone is keeping their eyes on the standings, who’s winning and who’s losing,” added Flames forward Blake Comeau. “We have a lot of Pacific Division teams we’ve got to play that we’re chasing, and there’s not going to be any easy games from here on out.
“We’ve got to continue to play like we did on this road trip.”
And continue with their home success.
The Flames, who have cobbled together a 10-1-1 in the last dozen Saddledome dates, will play 20 of their remaining 33 games at home.
“We’ve been good at home and hopefully can continue to do that,” Stempniak said. “It’s something that should work in our favour.”
And, their fate is completely in their hands.
The Flames have all kinds of games against those clubs sitting in positions seven through 13.
“We’d like to be further up the standings, but we’re at where we’re at,” said winger Alex Tanguay. “You can’t be looking too far ahead, but if you look at look at our schedule and the amount of times we’re going to play Dallas, amount of times we’re going to play Phoenix, we still play Colorado two or three times, Minnesota two or three times, so we’re going to play hard games against team’s we’re fighting against for a playoff spot. We have L.A. a couple more times, San Jose three more times.
“If we go out and win three of four against those guys, we’ll give ourselves a pretty good chance of being in.”
Win three of every four games, and the Flames wouldn’t just be thinking about getting in the playoffs, but beyond.
However, it’s best to just keep performing to the recent standards and keep climbing.
“You’re going to do that when you put wins together. Somebody’s going to lose games, so you’ll have the opportunity to go past teams,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “It’s about that push. You need to take care of your own business. If you’re piling points up, you will vault over teams.
“This trip allowed us to do that, but we can’t drop our guard.”