In a way, the playoffs already have started for the Calgary Flames.
They have three games remaining in the regular season and are approaching them as must-wins if they are going to catch and pass the Colorado Avalanche for the last postseason spot in the Western Conference.
The Avs have four games remaining after beating San Jose on Sunday night to move two points ahead of the Flames for the eighth spot with a game in hand. Calgary had just tied Colorado on Friday by beating the Avs, but after losing at Chicago on Sunday, the heat is now searing down on the ninth-place Flames.
No player feels it more than star captain Jarome Iginla, who has no goal and 4 assists in his last eight games. After Sunday's loss to the Blackhawks, in which Iginla logged 20:37 of ice time and finished minus-2 with just one shot on goal, he faced a group of reporters.
"We're not dead," Iginla said. "We need some help, but we know we've got to be better. We felt like we really needed to (win out) before this game, but we just weren't able to."
Watching from a distance was Flames center Craig Conroy, who didn't like the scene. Conroy sees a big difference in star talent between teams like Chicago and Calgary, and thinks Iginla gets more blame than he should.
"There's always unrealistic expectations (on him)," Conroy said. "I look at (Chicago), and I see (Marian) Hossa, (Jonathan) Toews, (Patrick) Sharp, (Patrick) Kane. I mean, those are superstar players. You know ... we have Jarome."
He didn't mean to slight the Flames' supporting cast, which has provided a balanced attack. Calgary, like Chicago, has 11 players with more than 10 goals this season. The difference is in the number of superstars the Blackhawks have compared to the Flames.
"We have other good players, but that's a lot of pressure for one individual," Conroy said. "(Iginla) handles it well, but from now on out we just need to leave him alone. He doesn't need to answer all these questions. He needs to just be able to play hockey and push the rest away."
Calgary coach Brent Sutter also is trying to ignite Iginla. In Sunday's game he had Iginla on the ice in the third period every third shift, trying to get him more scoring opportunities. It just didn't work.
"I tried different things," Sutter said. "We weren't scoring. Nothing was happening for some guys and some certain guys' level of play needed to pick up if we wanted a chance to win. Obviously we weren't able to capitalize on it."
Now it's on to the last week of the regular season, which is no picnic. The Flames host the conference-leading San Jose Sharks on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET, TSN) and Minnesota on Thursday before finishing the season at Vancouver on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, CBC). They need wins and a lot of luck to make the playoffs.
Calgary has to finish ahead of Colorado in order to make it. If they finish tied in points, the Avs own the tie-breaker.
"It's an uphill battle but it's not one that cannot be done," Sutter said. "We'll see what happens. We need everyone playing well. We need that push from everyone."
Not just Iginla.