Three weeks ago, on Feb. 20, the Flames were waiting to face the Nashville Predators. Their bye was over; they’d responded to it with a 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. Before then, they looked like they’d been turning a corner, but it was a rough night. Two games later Ryan Miller had dominated them yet again, and the Flames found themselves just barely occupying the last wild card spot, with Los Angeles right on their heels.
They still had to play the Kings another four times. Those games were going to decide the Flames’ season, weren’t they? Not to mention we still had to keep an eye out for both St. Louis and Nashville, because chances were the Flames would be fighting with them for a wild card spot, too.
Those were the teams to watch: Los Angeles. Nashville. St. Louis.
They played Nashville the next night, and kicked off the start of what would become – and hopefully still is, knock on wood – a lengthy win streak. It was a nonsensical game that ended in a 6-5 overtime victory; one filled with a elation and a bit of annoyance, if you were so inclined. After all, Nashville was one of the teams the Flames had to be on guard for, and giving up a loser point to them didn’t help matters – and, in fact, kept the Predators ahead in the standings.
Today, the Preds sit third in the Central division, and have three fewer points than the Flames.
Today, Los Angeles, Nashville, and St. Louis are still teams that hold interest, but they aren’t the main ones to watch anymore. Nowadays, the ones to watch are Anaheim and Edmonton: two teams that held two of the top three divisional spots, with San Jose probably out of reach (they’re nine points ahead with the same number of games played, so barring something catastrophic, they’ve probably got a good handle on first place).
Before the win streak, Anaheim and Edmonton were 10 points ahead. No point in thinking about them, right? Today, if the Flames extend their streak to 10 games (again, yes, knock on wood), they’ll be ahead of both of them.
The fight to just make the playoffs has turned more into a fight for home ice in the playoffs. The former isn’t a guarantee just yet, but it would take another catastrophic collapse – another end of January-like stretch – to put them in danger again. That’s not out of the question, but a prolonged losing streak certainly doesn’t seem to be in the Flames’ cards, at least not the way they’ve been playing overall. (Though some of their play has left something to be desired at points throughout this streak.) If anything, they probably aren’t crumplers anymore, at the very least.
Sure, the win streak isn’t sustainable. The Flames are probably going to lose games again this season. But right now, that doesn’t matter, because the Ducks, Oilers, Kings, Predators, and Blues are all going to lose games this season, too.
The point is the reset button has been hit. If you looked at these current standings back in October, you wouldn’t see that the Flames had a nine-game win streak to vault them into a divisional playoff spot; you’d see that they’re simply in a divisional playoff spot. A season is the sum of its parts, and this is just one of those parts. It counts just as much as a poor October or January.
And this isn’t the percentage-driven 2014-15 team. This isn’t a team ready to contend, either, but it’s one much further along than that one was. And though winning every game isn’t sustainable, their style of play is – and it’s their play that’s giving them a chance once again.