Flames keep enemies close
RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
|Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter talks to his players during the third period of his NHL ice hockey game against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose, California, Feb. 8, 2012. (REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach)
The brass ring is close enough the Calgary Flames believe they can feel it.
The hard part is making those last couple of steps to grab hold of it.
“It’s all right there for whoever wants to take it,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter, whose team returned home Friday after falling to the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in overtime the night before. “We want to be the ones to take it. We have to find a way to get it done.”
If you think it’s been really difficult for the Flames to make that last jump into the Western Conference’s elite eight, you’re right.
It can actually be quantified.
Prior to puck drop for their Jan. 7 game against the Minnesota Wild, the first game following that 9-0 loss in Boston which had them on a five-game losing skid, the Flames were six points back of the Los Angeles Kings, who had the No.-8 spot in the Western Conference standings.
Despite cobbling together a 7-3-3 record over the past five weeks, including a 3-0-3 mark in a half-dozen road games, they’re still two points out of a playoff position and among the quagmire of clubs fighting for the last one or two post-season invites.
“You look at the two points we didn’t get on (the recent road) trip, when you have four chances to win in a shootout in Anaheim but don’t get it done, and look at (Thursday in Phoenix), you’re right there to get two points but take a penalty in overtime,” Sutter said. “We closed the gap from before the trip started, but you’ve got to find a way to get over the hump, because games whittle down quickly and teams are all playing each other.
“The great thing about it all is you get an opportunity to play all those teams.”
The Flames return home to face the Northwest Division-leading Vancouver Canucks Saturday (8 p.m., CBC) and the Toronto Maple Leafs before going into a slate heavy with clubs they’re battling with for those elusive spots.
Plus, six of the next eight games are at the Saddledome.
“It was disappointing not getting the win (in Phoenix), but if we take care of out business down the stretch, we’ll get in. That’s how we look at it,” said Flames defenceman Mark Giordano. “We have a pretty favourable schedule and we’re playing a lot of the teams around us, so we have to take advantage.”
Going into the game against the Canucks, the Flames have an impressive 12-3-0 mark against fellow Northwest Division clubs.
“I didn’t know that,” said Blair Jones, who came to the Flames via trade just over a month ago. “I’ve only played Edmonton and Minnesota once, so I’m not familiar with the other teams. Right now, you don’t look at a game whether it’s divisional or not, just focus on playing hard and trying to get the win.
“We need points and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We need the result.
“We have to get back and get ready to go. Hopefully, everybody refocuses because it’s a huge game Saturday night. The building will be full and everybody will be rocking.”
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak