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BEND BUT DON'T BREAK

Flames excelling in one-goal games this year, able to battle back when they get down

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

When the defending Cup champs opened the scoring five minutes into the first period Tuesday, there was absolutely no panic. 

When they turned the tide and scored back-to-back goals to gain a 3-2 edge later in that frame, there was no wilt in confidence.  

And when the Oilers fought back, erasing 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 deficits to force overtime the very next night, there wasn't a trace of trepidation.

Instead, the Flames buckled down, put their work boots on and stuck to the game plan.

At this point in the season, you haven't a choice but to. 

As the playoffs draw near, you'd better get comfortable playing in those tight, one-goal games. 

"It's awesome," said Sam Bennett, who has an assist in back-to-back games and tends to play his best when the games get tougher. "We've won countless one-goal games this year. Last year, we were winning games more handily, but you've got to get used to winning games in uncomfortable situations. 

"That's how it's going to be down the stretch and into the playoffs."

Bang on. 

In fact, no one's been better than the Flames in those games this year. 

At 17-2-6, the Flames have a .680 winning percentage that tops all teams. The Penguins are next at .650 (13-2-5), followed by the Blues at .636 (14-0-8), Islanders and Capitals at .625 (15-4-5). 

Last year, the Flames went 16-8-7 in one-goal games, with their .516 winning percentage ranking 13th. 

While every team would like to blow the doors of their opponents and win by four or five goals a game, that isn't always the case. 

Come playoff time, things tighten up and you have to be comfortable in whatever situation the game throws at you.

"It's a combination of things," said captain Mark Giordano of their ability to grind wins out. "I think, yeah, we're playing better and are definitely more comfortable in those games. I think it's because we're playing a lot smarter. We're not taking as many risks when we do get up, and we never panic when we get down, no matter how much time is left.

"It's been great. I don't know - a lot of people wouldn't agree with me, but I think our team, at this point, this year, is in a better spot than we were in last year. 

"I think we're trending in a way better direction."

 

Video: "It's almost like playoff hockey - it has that feel"

 

With the Flames and Oilers set to renew pleasantries in Round 4 of the Battle of Alberta tonight, the locals know they'll have to stay calm in those "uncomfortable" situations all night. 

The Flames have taken all three against their bitter archrivals this year, including the past two in tight, one-goal decisions. 

In fact, Wednesday's victory went to a shootout after the Oilers fought back and really gave the Flames all they could handle. 

If it goes the distance again tonight, no one should be surprised. 

With an equal number of wins (27) and points (60), the Flames and Oilers have spent the better part of the year jockeying for playoff positioning.

But here we are, 30 games left, and very little has changed. 

Neck and neck, they stand.

 

Video: "These points are huge"

 

These teams are so evenly matched that if the spring dance were to begin today, they would collide in a wild, first-round matchup that would completely grip the nation.  

Come April, that could be a reality. 

"Realistically, both teams are in playoff mode right now," said interim head coach Geoff Ward. "Before you know it, 30 games is going to be 20 games, and 20 games is going to be 10.

"It's going to go by quickly now, so we've got to make sure we're at our best every night."

 

Video: "It should bring out the best in both teams"

 

With an opportunity to win their fourth straight against Edmonton, motivation is in high supply.

The Flames - who showed all kinds of jump with a spirited morning skate - are pumped to get going. 

"It feels like the playoffs, right from when you get there for warmup," Giordano said. "You get out there, the atmosphere's great, and it feels like - for some reason, and I don't know how it is in your body - in these games, you don't have an issue with legs or fatigue or anything like that.

"It's the first time in my career that both teams have been in this situation together. It makes for a great game for the sport of hockey.

"It's awesome."

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