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Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski are loving life with their new team

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Everyone enjoys being spoiled now and again.

To appropriate an oft-pilfered line from the movie Forrest Gump, life is actually like a box of chocolates for both Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski at the moment.

A Bernard Callebaut deluxe assortment, each piece individually wrapped in gold paper and the entire presentation topped up with a beautiful red silk bow. 

"Maybe this,'' jokes Stone, casting a cursory glance in his rear view mirror to another approaching early exit in Arizona, "is making up for my lack of wins before I got here.

"To be involved in a playoff race like this one, to win games … that's why we all play."

Win, win, win.

Seems that's all the Calgary Flames can manage to do since Stone and Matt Barkowski hopped aboard. 

They've not only hitched a ride on a magic carpet. They're helping keep it afloat.

"When I got here, the attitude was the same, confidence level, the way guys were playing, as it is now,'' says Bartkowski, who parlayed a professional tryout into a two-year, two-way contract and a ticket out of Rhode Island with the American Hockey League's Providence Bruins.

"I don't know how it was before that but right now it's a calm, confident room."

Video: Bartkowski on deal with Flames, returning to NHL

With Bartkowski modelling Rhett Warrener's old No. 44, the Flames are 7-0-1, the lone 'blemish' a 2-1 OT loss at Rogers Arena out west coast way his first game aboard.

Stone, meanwhile, is a faultless seven-for-seven since being acquired from the Coyotes for a third-round pick in this year's NHL Draft and a conditional fifth-round selection in 2018.

Then to now, there to here, they must both feel as if they'd been rescued off a life raft out in the open sea.

Instead of being stuck in the minors or playing out the string waiting to book a tee-off time in the desert, they find themselves involved in a fractious playoff tussle on a team beginning to find it's groove.

"You don't,'' says Stone, "take this for granted, believe me. I'm having so much fun. Meaningful games make all the difference.

"They bring that competitiveness out in you.

"I haven't been in this type of atmosphere for a while. So I welcome this opportunity."

Both men have found secure lodging along the Calgary blueline, Stone on a second pairing alongside TJ Brodie, Bartkowski as a complement to Deryk Engelland.

For each, this opportunity represents a new lease on professional life.

The head of the steam these Flames have built up over the past month hasn't hurt the acclimatization process any.

"Makes it way easier,'' emphasizes Bartkowski. "Whenever you're losing games, especially this time of year, it tends to tighten everybody up, guys not really being themselves and stuff.

"But winning … it makes a world of difference.

"Everybody's in a good mood. So it's easier to come in.

"Playing with Engy however many games now, I think we've developed some chemistry. I like playing with him.

"Hopefully he feels the same."

Video: Leslie catches up with Stone about 'returning home'

For Stone, the trade felt like a homecoming - his wife Michelle hails from Lake Boavista and her family still lives here.

"It's been a whole lot easier being familiar with the city the way I am,'' he says. "That definitely helps. And I'm in a building I'm familiar with.

"Starting out on the road, it felt just like another trip. Pack your bags. Flight. Hotel room. That was good.

"Any time a player changes teams the guys make it as easy as possible, no matter where you're headed to. It's been no different here. I feel as if I've fit in pretty well.

"I knew some faces, but not a lot. At first, it was a bit of a different experience. I'd never been through anything like it before."

Thursday, the Flames go in search of an eighth consecutive victory, which would equal the Calgary franchise high, since the relocation from Atlanta back in 1980.

A playoff spot is in their control. And they're undoubtedly deeper, steadier and more playoff ready with Stone (a +3 since arriving) and Bartkowski (a +4) in the fold.

"It's just staying in the moment,'' Bartkowski reckons. "We're still in the wild card and to go where we have to go to actually clinch a playoff spot, we're not there yet.

"Sure it's gone great for two weeks but we've got a ways left. "

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