As the calendar year of 2010 came to a close, the Calgary Flames were closer to last place in the Western Conference than they were to a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Much has changed for the Flames in 2011, and the opportunity to play in the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic should be a more positive one because of it.
"I think it adds to the experience," Flames forward David Moss
said. "The game is going to be, you know, a fun game anyways, and with the importance of us playing for a playoff spot and Montréal already being in this spot and they are fighting for position, too, I think that adds to the atmosphere and probably will add to the intensity of the game."
Calgary was in 14th place in the West on December 23 -- two points in front of last-place Edmonton and reeling from three straight losses and five in its last seven games. At that point the Flames had a team meeting and decided to set their focus on three-game segments -- just win two of three like a baseball series and don't worry about how far the team had to climb.
"We know that those two points might be the difference for us getting in and us getting out. So we have to make sure that we don't give away games. Our fans are certainly going to help us a lot more on that one. It's going to be very loud outside with 40-plus thousand fans. For sure, we are not forgetting the task at hand."
-- Alex Tanguay
It worked. The Flames are 15-4-5 since that meeting and currently sit in eighth place in the West. Their hold on the spot is tenuous -- two points separates sixth place from 10th in the conference -- but that the club is in contention is a great achievement from where it was in mid-December.
"I think that we believed from day one that we had a better team than what we showed in the first 40 or so games, and when we finally started getting a bounce here and there, we started believing in ourselves," forward Alex Tanguay
said. "And right now we feel that we can play and we can match up against any of the other teams.
"I think that once you get that confidence, certainly with the team we have, we are certainly going to be a tough team to beat and we are just going to try to work as hard as possible to keep that confidence level high. And right now, we know that we are a long way from where we want to be, but our objective is to get ourselves in the playoffs and right now we've put ourselves in position to do that."
Now Sunday's contest against the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium is going to take on a much greater importance. The Canadiens have been fighting for playoff position all season in the Eastern Conference, but now both teams involved will be seeking a much needed victory.
Montreal is currently fifth in the East, but only one point shy of Boston for the top spot in the Northeast and a top-three seed in the postseason.
"I think that we are very well aware that it's going to be a fun experience and very unique, but we have to be professional about it," Tanguay said. "We know that those two points might be the difference for us getting in and us getting out. So we have to make sure that we don't give away games. Our fans are certainly going to help us a lot more on that one. It's going to be very loud outside with 40-plus thousand fans. For sure, we are not forgetting the task at hand."
Added Moss: "I think no matter what game it is from here on out, we know that all of these points are huge. And I think the guys will take in the experience, too, but I think once you are on the ice and once the puck drops, we are fighting for those two points."
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer