After four full days away from the rink, the Calgary Flames gathered at the Stampede Corral for their first practice in almost a week. The top thing on everyone’s minds when chatting with the media was the impending beginning of the homestretch for their club: 26 games over 55 days which will determine whether the Flames will be playoff competitors or spectators.
The Flames are undoubtedly familiar with where their club sits as the homestretch begins. Following Sunday’s practice, head coach Glen Gulutzan summarized the team’s likely orientation towards standings-watching rather succinctly (when noting he avoided the practice during the break).
“I resisted the temptation to do that because I really feel that, add
20 points, 25 points to all of us, I’ve said it before, and then let
us play the last 10,” said Gulutzan. “We’ve got to stay focused on the daily process
and it’s going to come down to the end. It really always does.”
The Flames have 26 games remaining, but seven dates in particular will likely be key in determining whether or not they make the postseason. It’s probably not shocking that the seven games are against the three other teams they’re jostling with for playoff spots.
- Feb. 21 in Nashville
- Feb. 28 against Los Angeles
- March 19 against Los Angeles
- March 23 in Nashville
- March 25 in St. Louis
- March 29 against Los Angeles
- April 6 in Los Angeles
It would be helpful for their playoff chances if the Flames were keyed-in for the last two weeks of March.
“It’s going to be that battle right to the end,” said Gulutzan. “The good part is the
teams we’re fighting with we’ve got, so that’s always encouraging to
know that you still have everything in your control. And at this
point of the season, everything’s still in your control. You’ve got
to play good hockey.”
Compared to a lot of the teams they’re chasing for playoff spots, the Flames are in relatively good shape. They don’t have any significant injuries. Both of their goaltenders have given them good starts in recent weeks. They have the cap space to carry a full 23-man roster and the flexibility to rotate players in and out of the lineup. The team’s hectic schedule down the stretch – particularly 16 games in the final 31 days of the season beginning March 9 – will both require and facilitate keeping the team’s full roster engaged in the stretch drive.
becomes a slippery slope because sometimes, if you’re on a roll, you
hate to change your lineup. If you’re not, it’s easier to change the
lineup,” said Gulutzan. “But we’re going to have to work guys in and out to make sure
we keep everybody sharp, especially basically I think it’s March 9 we
play every second day. We’re going to have to make sure we have
everybody available. The reality is we’re going to need everybody to
get this thing done.”
The Flames are currently one point behind Los Angeles for the final Western Conference wildcard spot. The Kings have one game in hand.