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Flames credit comeback success to fitness level

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY -- From an office overlooking the fitness facility in the bowels of Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary Flames strength and conditioning coach Ryan van Asten took a moment and paused.

Then, peering out from his desk in the direction of his other, bigger office of gym equipment, van Asten suggested he knew at least part of the reason the Flames have found success in the second season of what is supposed to be a rebuilding process.

Fitness.

"You kind of have to look at it as so many different variables," he said atop an exercise ball. "I like to think that piece of the puzzle is paying off, what we do in the gym. We train every day. There are so many different factors. One of them is, we've done it so many different times, is confidence. At the end of the day, if you don't have the physiological resources, it's all for naught.

"There's no doubt in my mind they have full confidence in their physical abilities coming late into games, into overtime. They're not afraid to overexert themselves because they know they can recover."

The Flames led the NHL with 12 wins after trailing after the first period, 10 when trailing after the second, and 13 in overtime. Their 18 wins after allowing the first goal were second to the Nashville Predators' 19.

The Flames, who host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday (8 p.m. ET; SNW, TSN4), believe it has everything to do with fitness.

"We believe it. We believe it," coach Bob Hartley said. "We can't compare ourselves to other teams because we don't have the data of other teams, but we believe it. It's in our minds. They believe that our conditioning can make the difference. They believe in their abilities. You combine those two together, we feel we have a chance to always come back."

Hartley gives credit to van Asten, who was with the Los Angeles Kings for Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014, and with the Canada women's team for a gold medal won at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"Huge. Huge. This guy is a magician," Hartley said. "This guy is so good. Great communicator, always ready, has lots of new ways to train, new methods. Guys are very excited with this. He's been a huge addition. It's his personality also. It's who's in the shoes that make the call. He's a great one."

The Flames signed goaltender Jonas Hiller, defenseman Deryk Engelland and forward Mason Raymond as free agents on July 1. That also was van Asten's start date.

"Everyone was really welcoming," he said. "Where I came from and what I've been able to be a part of the past few years really helped a lot. Guys really bought-in right away. These guys know they're in shape. There's no way around it. It started right at the beginning of the year. The coaches are driving that as well. It's 100 percent buy-in with the players with what I'm doing."

Flames players didn't need much convincing to follow van Asten's lead.

"When we were down in L.A., he [was given] his second ring," Calgary forward Joe Colborne said. "There were quite a few guys staring at it pretty good. It's huge. That's our goal. We want to get there and he's seen it done. He knows how to get through a long season and a couple long playoff runs like they've had. He's well equipped to handle whatever we have thrown at us.

"He's stepped in and he's got such a quiet demeanor about him, but he's got so much respect from the top on down. He has been able to step in and instantly become part of the team. There was no period where it took him to get acclimated. Obviously he's had success with the Kings. When he says something, most of the guys are quick to listen. It's been working."

The come-from-behind victories prove that. The Flames' eighty-five third-period goals are second to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have 87 but have played two more games. No NHL team has allowed fewer in the third period than the Flames (48).

"I said this at Day One of camp," Hartley said. "Looking at the commitment our players have shown in their training regimen over the summer, looking at the results of our fitness tests, I knew that we were putting ourselves in a situation where we would have a chance. Looking at the way we compete in third periods, looking at the way we compete in back-to-back games, we have lots of gas, and that's the team commitment that they've given us."

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