March 13, 2012
Flames hanging on for dear life
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Nailbiting is a nasty habit.
But the Calgary Flames are forcing their fans and coaches to gnaw their fingers off these days.
Sure, the Flames are scoring first every game these days — they tied a franchise record by doing it an 11th straight NHL tilt in Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild — but they’re letting those leads slip away or making things tighter than they should.
We saw examples of both those issues in Minnesota, during a game in which the Flames saw a 2-0 lead evaporate, pulled ahead by two goals again in the middle of the third period and then hung on in the final minute.
“Just setting ourselves up for the playoffs,” said Flames left winger Curtis Glencross, who is riding a seven-game goal-scoring streak.
“That’s how the playoffs are.”
That theory sounds all well and good, but the Flames need to reach the Stanley Cup tournament first.
They’ll certainly improve their chances if they can continue their winning streak when they play host to the San Jose Sharks Tuesday at the Saddledome (7:30 p.m., TSN/Sportsnet 960), but the Flames are far from a shoo-in to reach the playoffs.
As bad as they’ve been at holding leads, the Flames are unbeaten in regulation when leading after two periods (23-0-4) but have gassed quite a few leads over the past few weeks.
It explains the 5-3-3 mark in those 11 outings.
“You expect these kind of games this time of year when it’s so tight in the Western Conference,” Glencross said. “You have to battle every night, and it doesn’t matter what team you’re playing, everyone’s battling for division lead, conference lead, making the playoffs … anything like that.
“Every game is coming down to the wire. It makes it exciting.”
Maybe it’s a little too exciting.
“We’ve had times in the last month it’s gone the other way on us, but we’ve recently been able to regain that composure and win games,” said Flames head coach Brent Sutter. “We’d much rather be playing with a lead than not.”
To their credit, the Flames put that late-February skid (a 0-2-2 homestand) behind them the best way possible— with a run that has them back in control of their destiny.
The Flames pulled themselves back into conference’s top eight after Sunday’s action and must learn from their own history.
When they finally grabbed a playoff spot for the first time this season with their Feb. 18
win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Flames returned home, were whipped 6-1 by the Edmonton Oilers and went into that tailspin.
The plan is to try and ignore the standings the best they can.
“We expect it to be a dogfight. There’s six teams for a few spots or whatever, so we just get ready for our next game,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. “We knew it would take a bit of a run to get back in it, and we got ourselves going the right way. This time of year, it gets more and more exciting to play.”
“It’s about winning games, not being really worried where you’re at but making sure you’re playing well and winning,” Sutter said. “The standings will take care of themselves. We’ve got to have that mindset — it’s really important.
“We can’t take the foot off the pedal — our focus has to be the same and our purpose has to be the same. Our urgency has to be the same.
“It’s about wanting to push and move up, but you can’t worry about where you sit in the standings — you have enjoy the fact you can move up because you’re winning.”