CALGARY - A playoff berth may be the faintest of hopes but the Calgary Flames still have lofty expectations heading into their final 24 games of the National Hockey League season.
In anticipation of their next game against the Los Angeles Kings at home Feb. 27, the Flames hit the ice for an intense 90-minute practice at the Scotiabank Saddledome Thursday, followed by a 40-minute off-ice conditioning session.
"Today it was quite a marathon," said coach Bob Hartley, who ramped up the pace following a lighter practice Wednesday.
"Yesterday was tough. Today was tougher. Tomorrow's going to be tougher but with no gym. We try to obviously get back to our habits, to our details, to our system but at the same time, we know that we were all basically on vacation."
After Calgary lost 2-1 at home to the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 8, the players went their separate ways for the Olympic break before reconvening in Calgary for what Hartley called "training camp, Part 2."
Forward Matt Stajan gets why Hartley and his coaching staff have planned a week of tough practices leading up to next Thursday’s game against the Kings.
"You come back, you want to get back into a routine and in a rhythm where your body feels good and you get your skating legs back," Stajan said.
"That doesn't just happen. You have to work hard to get it back. They're putting us through the paces here. As a team, we’re working hard and we want to make sure we’re ready to go that first game. We don't want to ease into it. We want to get off to the right start here when we play L.A."
Despite losing their last game to the Flyers, the Flames went through a stretch from Jan. 22 to Feb. 6 where they won six of seven, including five victories in a row at the Saddledome.
"We played really well before the break," said team captain Mark Giordano.
"We've done a good job of starting to win those tight games. Going forward, it's going to get tougher. Teams are all fighting for those last playoff spots and those points. There’s not going to be any nights off for teams. We have to find a way in those tight games — those high-intensity games — to win."
Hartley threw down a challenge to all of his players to play like they have a shot of qualifying for the playoffs
"We want to keep progressing," he said. "You never know what can happen. We’re still in it. Obviously we know that we’re a very long shot, so we’re not going to try to fool no one, but at the same time, we start on a good streak and you never know what can happen."
With a 22-29-7 record, the Flames would need to close a 13-point gap between themselves and the Dallas Stars (27-21-10), who currently hold onto the final Western Conference wild card berth.
"We all understand that we're in a tough spot as far as making the playoffs," said forward Mike Cammalleri. "We're going to start Game 1 and hope to win 24 in a row."
According to Giordano, the Flames must relish the role of the underdog for the rest of the season.
"We have nothing to lose," Giordano said. "To be honest, nobody expects us to get into playoffs where we're sitting today, so if we ever pulled off something like that it would be pretty cool."
For the Flames to have success, Hartley said he'll rely heavily on the likes of Giordano to lead the way down the stretch drive.
"It’s kind of boring to talk about Gio because it's always the same thing," Hartley said. "He's always ready. He’s always on time. He’s always one of hardest workers. He is who he is and that’s why he's our captain."
With Karri Ramo still nursing a knee injury and Reto Berra on his way back from Russia where he competed for Switzerland at the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Flames recalled goalie Joni Ortio from the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League.
"I strongly doubt that Ramo would be ready for next Thursday," said Hartley, adding that Berra will get a few days off upon his return from Russia.
A familiar face filled another Flames net as Brent Krahn, who Calgary selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, came out of retirement to serve as a practice goalie Wednesday and Thursday.