A season-long, five-game road trip comes to a close today when the Flames take on the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
The Flames are coming off a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, giving them a 2-1-1 record through the first four games of the journey.
A win today would turn a good trip into a great one.
But in order to make that happen, the Flames will need a better effort than the one they supplied yesterday, when the players and coach all agreed post-game that a few "spurts" here and there were not nearly enough, and that the final scorecard likely flattered the road team.
"They didn't give us much tonight - held us to a low number of shots, especially early on in the game, and they capitalized on their chances," a sullen Matthew Tkachuk surmised. "They've got some dangerous guys over there, and their goalie played well when he had to in the third.
"Just not enough tonight. Not nearly enough."
Tkachuk had an assist to expand his lead in the team scoring race with 57 on the year.
Andrew Mangiapane, Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan had the goals, while David Rittich was good when called upon, as the Flames were out-shot 33-21 and surrendered two powerplay goals, along with one short-handed tally in the process.
In fact, the Flames got goals only 57 seconds apart midway through the second to chew into the Bolts' three-nil lead, but Tampa forward Alex Killorn scored a back-breaking marker only 53 clicks later to repair the home team's two-goal lead.
Monahan made it close with a PPG of his own with 2:49 left, but the Flames were unable to cash later with goalie pulled.
"They played harder than we did for longer today," interim head coach Geoff Ward said. "I thought we were good in spurts, but we needed to be better more often in the hockey game. They skated well - I thought they competed real hard and looked like a team who'd lost their last four and were desperate for a win."
The Flames were credited with only one high-danger scoring chance at even-strength - a testament to how well the Lightning did at collapsing into the middle and keeping the good guys on the perimeter.
But Ward knows his team is capable of more, regardless of how the other team defends.
"I think the biggest thing is that when you're standing (still), it makes it easy for them, in their structure," he said. "When you start moving and are prepared to get pucks in behind - a couple times we were able to get pucks in off bank plays and stuff - we were able to get some attack out of it. But you have to be willing to be coming through with speed, be willing to keep the puck moving ahead and have support; make sure you get some lane changes so you're going through the holes in the wall, as opposed to straight at guys.
"All those things make a difference getting through the neutral zone."
Regardless of last night's outcome, the Flames are pushing that one aside and focusing on what matters most:
Heading home with a 3-1-1 record would be a nice accomplishment for this group.
"I think at the beginning of the road trip, if we looked at it as a whole - it's a pretty tough trip," Tkachuk said. "I think seven out of 10 points is not the complete, perfect, perfect outcome, but we would take that right now and that has to happen with a win (today).
"That's the beauty of back-to-backs. None of us are really happy with our game (last night), but the good thing is, we'll come back (today) and we're going to be desperate to get two points and keep pace in the Western Conference."
The Flames enter the day in the first wild-card spot, one point up on the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Arizona Coyotes.
The Panthers were also in action last night, dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was a disappointing loss to a non-playoff team, but a critical point all the same for the Cats, who are three points back of the final wild-card spot in the East.
Mike Matheson tied the game with only 1:28 to play on a beautiful solo effort that began at his own blueline, racing to a loose puck and chipping it past the defenceman, before taking it down the right side and placing a shot under the arm of Corey Crawford.
Overtime solved nothing, and Jonathan Toews potted the winner in the skills contest.
Florida's leading scorer Mike Hoffman scored for the fifth straight game - unassisted at 4:07 of the first period - and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for the Panthers, who have lost six straight games at home and four of their last five overall (1-3-1).
"A tough loss, but we'll take the point," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville told Alain Poupart of NHL.com. "It's something that breaks the trend here. Let's head in the other direction.
"It was a tough post-all-star break for us. We've got to recapture that feeling of what it was like prior to going into this. We had a lot of things going the right way. We were a little quicker and we had the puck more."
Bobrovsky is heating up for the Panthers these days. He has a 3-2-1 record, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.65 goals-against average over his last six starts, and now has a 23-19-6 record on the year.
The 31-year-old has been a workhorse for the Cats this year with 49 starts and 50 total appearances.
Sam Montembeault is the team's backup, and has a 5-4-1 record, along with an .890 save percentage and a 3.37 goals-against average in 13 appearances this year.
There is currently no word on which of the two will get the start this afternoon.
3. US VS. THEM
In their only other meeting this year, the Flames earned a wild, 6-5 shootout victory, following a back-and-forth final frame that saw the teams combine for six goals.
Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Giordano helped the Flames open up a 4-2 lead in the first five minutes of the third, but the Cats rallied with three unanswered goals to take a late, 5-4 lead.
However, Sam Bennett levelled the score with 2:43 to play, and Sean Monahan scored the game-winner in the shootout.
David Rittich made 18 saves.
Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and an assist, Aleksander Barkov had four helpers, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 19 shots for the Panthers.
The Flames are 6-3-1 in their last 10 meetings and hold an all-time record of 20-10-3-3 against the Cats, including a 10-4-2-2 mark on the road.
THIS: The Flames are in the midst of their ninth back-to-back scenario of the season, and the Panthers are also playing a back-to-back set after Blackhawks in Sunrise. Calgary is 4-4-0 in the second game of a back-to-back situation this season. ... THAT: With his goal yesterday, Sean Monahan passed Hakan Loob and now sits alone in the seventh for the most goals in Calgary Flames franchise history with 194. Also, with it coming on the powerplay, Monahan has tied Joel Otto for the eighth-most powerplay goals in Calgary Flames franchise history with his 57th career PPG. ... THE OTHER:Elias Lindholm notched his 199th-career assist yesterday in Tampa Bay, and is now only one off a major career milestone. Lindholm can become just the fourth player from his draft year (2013) to collect 200 helpers. Lindholm also scored his 28th goal of the season on Saturday Tampa - a new career high.
5. PLAYERS TO WATCH
Flames - Erik Gustafsson
The 27-year-old continues to fit seamlessly into his new surroundings. Gustafsson had an assist on Elias Lindholm's goal against the Bolts, and how has two helpers in three games with the Flames.
When he was on the ice at even strength, the team had a 56.25% share of the shot attempts, too.
No other Flame did better.
Panthers - Mike Hoffman
Hoffman has 10 points (6G, 4A) during a seven-game point streak and five-game goal streak.
He leads the Panthers with 27 goals and chasing down his career high in points (70), with 56 in 65 games to this point - a 71-point pace.