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EIGHT NOT ENOUGH

Flames look to equal winning-streak record Thursday but Backlund says let's run the table

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Thursday, they go in search of a little slice of history.

Blocking their way, an organization that's put a virtual trademark on the stuff.

Makes perfect sense, then, that Montreal Canadiens, who wear their resplendent past glories like bleu, blanc et rouge papal robes, are in town for their annual visit as the Calgary Flames aim to nail down an eighth win in a row.

History, after all, being their stock-in-trade.

If accomplished Thursday night (7 p.m., SNWEST SN960 THE FAN), eight in a row would equal a Calgary-based organization record heading into Winnipeg for a Saturday night/Hockey Night date at the MTS Centre and an opportunity to stand alone.

"Really?'' says captain Mark Giordano, taken slightly aback. "You sure? Yeah?

"Well, that's a good stat. A cool stat.

"Any time you can make or share some history with a franchise that's been around for, what, 37 years isn't it?, that's something to shoot for.

"They've gone deep into the playoffs more than once here, they won the Cup, had a great team through the '80s, so many players everyone remembers.

"At the end of the day, we're focused on making the playoffs and piling up as many points as possible, but any time you get in one of these situations you use any tool possible.

"The one thing you don't want to be is complacent. You need things to aim for. They help.

"So I'm glad you mentioned that to me.

"I'm sure a lot of the guys wouldn't know that. I'm going to bring it up."

The Flames' franchise best stands at 10 wins on the trot, set during the 1978-79 campaign when the team was still based at the Omni in Atlanta.

Since the move north in 1980, though, eight games is the watershed number, accomplished three times.

"No question, there's always something special about a game against the Montreal Canadiens,'' acknowledges Flames' boss Glen Gulutzan, a Habs' fan (Gainey, Lafleur, Dryden) growing up on Hudson Bay. "Doesn't matter what rink you're in, you can feel it - whether I was in Vancouver, Dallas, or now here, when Montreal rolls in there's a different atmosphere."

And the chance at equaling a record?

"It's nothing something we think about,'' parries Gulutzan lightly, "but any time you can do something special in an organization, big or small, it's nice.

"We like milestones in this room. Targets. We make no secret about that. And it'd be something to look back on."

Doing just that, looking back, the last time the Flames strung eight wins in a row together can be traced to 2005, Nov. 1-18. Darryl Sutter's last season behind the bench. Miikka Kiprusoff's 42-win Vezina Trophy campaign.

Now scroll further back to 1992-93, Dec. 14 to Jan. 2, the 1992-93 campaign. Dave King was coach and Theo Fleury hit the century mark in points.

And finally, naturally, the touchstone 117-point Stanley Cup campaign, '88-89, Jan. 31 through Feb. 15.

Only three times in approaching four decades.

"I am a little surprised,'' admits goaltender Chad Johnson, a Flames' aficionado during his youth in southeast Calgary. "Especially when you remember how good some of those teams were, back in the day.

"But there are always different aspects to success. Why we've had success and those teams you mentioned had success. There's so much that goes into winning games, and especially putting together streaks.

"Just looking at the change in us since the Ottawa game … we're just finding ways to win, whether it's 6-5 or 2-1. And we're beating the teams below us. That's what good teams do."

Right now, at this moment, the Flames are a good team. A very good team.

"It's cool,'' says assistant GM Craig Conroy of the chance for eight in a row, "but it's a different time, too, with the 3-on-3 overtime and stuff like that. If you do or you don't, you know people are going to say 'Yeah, well, they've got this' and 'That's different.' And they'd be right.

"I mean, I'm surprised. As you said, 117 points the year they won the Cup? That's just crazy good. So you'd figure they had to put up 10 or so wins in a row that season, right?

"We're just happy to be in this position, to be playing well.

"You can just feel the vibe around here, everybody's having fun, the way we believe in what we're doing. It's contagious.

"That record you just mentioned, it'd be a bonus. A nice bonus. But just that - a bonus."

So up for grabs Thursday night, a chance to rub shoulders with three of this franchise's finest.

A run of plenty unseen in these parts since Iggy and Dion and Kipper, since Theo and Vernon and Roberts, since Killer and Nieuwy and MacInnis.

"Our only focus,'' reiterates pivot Mikael Backlund, "is to win games, to make playoffs. But it's always fun to break records, to tie records.

"We've been playing well. We know this streak will end sometime but we want to keep it going as long as we can.

"We're tying to win all the rest of our games. We know that's unrealistic. But that's what you do. You go out expecting to win every night."

 

Doing the rudimentary math, laying claim to all remaining dance-card dates, running the table as it were, would send the surging Flames storming into the post-season on the tailwind of, oh, a 23-game winning streak.

"Yeah,'' replies an amused Backlund. "Well …

"Let's hope for eight and see where that takes us."

Into a little slice of local history, for starters.

 

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