Prior to heading out on the Calgary Flames longest road trip of the season, Craig Conroy made a couple of statements.
"December has to be our month. And we have to come back from the road trip in a playoff spot," declared Conroy.
Okay, so far, he's good on both counts.
The Flames wrapped up the six game trip with a 6-0 record and are now 7-0-2 for their December to remember. Having gained points in nine straight games they have put themselves back into the crowded playoff mix in the Western Conference. When the team left for the first game of the road trip in Chicago, they were sitting in 13th place in the conference, They return home sitting in the top eight. When they left, they were being tagged as a fragile team. They return as a confident team.
"I think the guys were gripping their sticks a little tight," said Wayne Primeau, who returned to the line-up on the road trip after a 25 game-absence with a high ankle sprain. "The confidence wasn't there. We were finding a way to lose instead of finding ways to win, which we are doing now."
That truly is the case. A recap of the six-pack of wins:
In Chicago, the Flames stage a come-from-behind win and withstand a furious third period from the Hawks to win 3-2. They were outshot 37-29 in the game.
In Florida, the game is 1-0 until 10 second remain and Jarome Iginla
scores with the extra attacker. Kristian Huselius then salts away the win in the shootout, rubbing out his former team.
In Tampa, the Flames return to the site of their Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup in 2004 and play a totally uncharacteristic game, winning a 9-6 river hockey match. Huselius and Iginla record hat tricks and Dion Phaneuf records five assists in the wild offensive affair.
One night later the Flames get into penalty trouble but kill seven of eight against Carolina to claim a 4-3 victory. Miikka Kiprusoff
lets in a weak one but rebounds to be one of the best penalty-killers on the night as the Flames win 4-3.Iginla leads NHL stars of the week Keenan joins elite 600-win club
In snowy St. Louis the Flames take the lead, lose the lead, remain calm, play solid defensively and come out with a 5-3 win over the Blues -- who managed just 17 shots on net. The win puts head coach Mike Keenan among only six coaches to reach the 600-win milestone.
In Columbus the Flames jumped to a 2-0 lead, withstood the push from the Blue Jackets and set a team record for a single road trip and tie an NHL record with a 3-1 wn to cap off the trip.
The Flames became just the fourth NHL team to win six consecutive games on a road trip (the Flames won five in regulation time, one via a shootout). Only three teams in NHL history had won six consecutive games on one road trip (of any length): the 1971-72 Bruins, the 1982-83 Flyers and the 2001-02 Red Wings. Each of those teams won every game on a six-game road trip.
While the Flames wins have come in different manners -- wild offence, strong defence, good special teams, some timely goaltending -- there have been some noticeable consistencies. Among the most noticeable is the physical play of the Flames, particularly Robyn Regehr, who was a workhorse on the blueline. The other noticeable item is the play of the Flames in the third period, where they have outscored opponents 11-3. Of course, the Flames are also riding ne hot line, too.Jarome Iginla
, Kristian Huselius and Daymond Langkow combined for 30 points and 16 goals in the last five games of the trip. There likely wasn't a hotter line in the league over the last week or so. To top things off, Iginla was named the NHL's first star of the week on Monday. "You try and experiment with different people and sometimes the experiment is magical and sometimes it is not," said head coach Mike Keenan. Consider this experiment one of the magical ones.
That's not to say that the top line dismissed the concept of playing defence.
"They are being responsible," noted associate head coach Jim Playfair. "They are coming back for pucks and helping out because they know they will be rewarded at the other end."
Among the items that don't necessarily reach the stats sheet was the team toughness shown by the Flames. In Columbus, when Jody Shelley and Jared Boll, the big beasts of the Blue Jackets, hit Iginla from behind in the neutral zone, the Flames reacted. Eric Nystrom stepped in to help defend the captain while the captain himself took on the fighter Boll. In the second period, with the Blue Jackets cramming the Flames net, the Flames again pushed back.
And throughout the trip the Flames played physical hockey. Playing their sixth game in a row on the road on Tuesday against a team that likes to play the body, the Flames weren't going to be pushed around.
"It becomes a contagious part of our game," said Playfair of the physical play of defencemen like Regehr and Cory Sarich
. "It comes down to us executing with intensity."
Yes, there was much to talk about during the trip, most of it positive.
The highlight for the Flames?
"Just being back in the playoffs," said defenceman Adrian Aucoin, who returns home on a four-game point streak with two goals and four assists. "I know there is a lot of hockey left but...we are going to climb that ladder."
The Flames will try and continue that climb Friday against Dallas and Sunday against New Jersey,both home games, before they get a brief Christmas break. They will travel to Vancouver on Boxing Day and then face Anaheim and Vancouver at home to finish off December.
At this point, there's no reason to think that they can't continue what they started on the road at home. They remain loose and level-headed.
"Through the bad times you have to work hard to get things going. Through the good times you have to work hard to keep things going," said forward Alex Tanguay