SUN Hockey Pool

Flames must find motivation for final stretch

Calgary Flames left wing Blake Comeau (R) skates the puck against Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn...

Calgary Flames left wing Blake Comeau (R) skates the puck against Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Dallas, Texas March 24, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Stone)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:36 PM ET

The task at hand now may be even more difficult than the one they've been working on all season.

With the playoffs pretty much a pipedream, the Calgary Flames have to find a new motivation over their the final six games of the season.

Saying all the right things following Saturday's crushing 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, the Flames know they have to win every one of their remaining contests to have a real shot at the playoffs.

Considering the most victories they've managed to string together in succession all season is five, which they promptly followed up with five straight losses over the last week-and-a-half, it's a brave thought without much belief behind it.

So for those who have accepted the fact the post-season is an unlikely reality for the third season in a row, there will be other factors stimulating their efforts in games against the Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks (times two), and Anaheim Ducks.

Some are playing for contracts.

Others for pride.

Some might relish the thought of being spoilers with the Avalanche and Kings not entirely safe in their current spots in the top eight.

And, yes, there may even be a few who truly believe they will make the playoffs -- and will keep that thought alive until they lose another game or are mathematically eliminated.

In the ultimate optimist's favour, five of their six remaining games will be contested in the more friendly home confines of the Saddledome.

Three of them -- against the Stars, Avs and KIngs -- come against teams they still have an outside shot at catching in what would be a miraculous climb, provided they get some help from others.

And the Ducks, who once were flying high in their efforts to turn their season around and crack the top eight, have had their wings clipped with zero chance at qualifying for the post-season.

But the reality of their grim situation quickly set in for the Flames following their latest loss in a must-win game.

Captain Jarome Iginla suggested the Flames would have to come away with two points from every single contest.

Veteran teammate Michael Cammalleri agreed, saying he chooses to look at their current situation as a no-pressure quest with a possible fairytale ending -- trying to be a "Cinderella story" and making it to their ball.

"Where we're at, we do have to win every game," said Flames head coach Brent Sutter, who gave his charges the day off Sunday. "We've got to pick away here and not give up any points. We've got to get every point we can get and see what happens.

"We're not out of it by any means, yet, but ..."

But the anger he unleashed on a garbage can after Thursday's shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild was triggered by the knowledge it was just a matter of time. The fact they came away with nothing to show for their trip to Texas only made it more clear.

The head coach has other motivations to stay focused, too. With his contract set to expire and no guarantees he'll be invited back, Sutter may still have a voice when it comes to decisions that have to be made by the organization.

How Olli Jokinen plays out the next couple of weeks could help determine whether or not the Flames feel he's worth what he's asking for as a pending unrestricted free agent. With no points and a minus-7 rating over the last seven games, with so much on the line, his star is no longer shining as brightly as it did during his stellar previous few months.

Lee Stempniak, David Moss, Tom Kostopoulos, Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich also have contracts that come to an end July 1.

Restricted free agent Blake Comeau is in a similar situation. The Flames could qualify him at his already high salary, choose not to and take a crack at signing him at a lower price, or just let him go altogether.

An ice-cold captain -- no points in five games for Iginla -- will once again find himself amid talk of off-season trade. Maybe ownership will finally consider it seriously. That could also be influenced by how he approaches the next six games as the Flames' leader.

As many difficult decisions as there are to make in the near future and as hard as it will be for the players to get up for these last games, the most strenuous choice probably belongs to the Flames' fans.

Whether or not they want to watch.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


Videos

Photos