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Flames focused on big climb ahead

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Ten points back of the San Jose Sharks for third in the Pacific Division.

Nine back of the Colorado Avalanche for the second of two wild card entries from the Western Conference.

Twenty-seven games remain in the schedule.

What is the formula for overcoming the deficit?

“Passion and belief,” according to Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley, whose troops find themselves stuck in sixth in the division after back-to-back losses against Pacific foes.

And?

“Building on wins,” Hartley said. “Building on wins because obviously any team in our situation, including us, we need to go on a big winning streak. That’s the only way that we’re going to make up ground. We had two pretty good weeks in the past two weeks and we basically didn’t move.”

A win Wednesday against the visiting Minnesota Wild wouldn’t budge Calgary from 12th in the West.

But the focus is on the forefront, not the long term.

It’s one step at a time.

“When you go home and think about it, no one’s happy with where we sit,” Flames centre Matt Stajan said. “You can’t look too far forward. If you don’t take care of business you’ll be worse off. Just getting the group to have the mindset that tomorrow’s a big game. We’ve got a team that’s struggled but has a new coach and they’re going to come in after a big win and get things going. We’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to be a desperate team.

“We’re no different than Minnesota. We’re behind them. If we want to make ground we’ve got to start winning these games. We’re going to have to put a streak together, there’s no doubt about it. Otherwise, we’ve got no chance.”

One, suggested Hartley, needs to turn into a run.

“The Ottawa Senators last year, that’s the way to go,” he said. “You need to get on an unbelievable run because there’s too many teams involved in the race. While you win, other teams in that same race are going to win. When you lose, other teams will lose but other teams will win, too. You’re just basically running on the spot.”

The Senators, though, are an interesting study, propped up by an unimaginable play by rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond.

Hammond’s run, coincidentally enough, started Feb. 16 in his second career NHL game, a relief appearance after starter Robin Lehner sustained an injury in a crease collision.

And over the 24 games he played, Hammond went 20-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA, a .941 save percentage and three shutouts. In his 23 starts, Hammond allowed two or fewer goals 18 times, allowed more than three goals twice, and had eight games in which he's allowed one goal.

Ottawa qualified for the playoffs, as the first wild card entry from the Eastern Conference.

All after being 14 points out of a playoff spot, and behind five teams, on Feb. 10.

Jonas Hiller is tasked with putting together a similar run to help aid Calgary’s push.

But Hiller, Calgary’s de facto starter with Karri Ramo’s status uncertain around his lower-body injury, is 8-6-1-1 with a 3.22 GAA and .889 save percentage in 19 appearances this season, including a mercy pull in Monday’s 6-4 loss against the Anaheim Ducks.

“You always go through better and not-so-good stretches and ups and downs,” Hiller said. “All you can do is stay positive and look forward. I know if you want to win games, you have to play better. The last few games we’ve gotten away with wins we shouldn’t have. Sometimes it gives you confidence and suddenly things turn around and it’s tough to get out of that again.”

But Hiller and the Flames will need to.

The schedule isn’t on their side.

Neither is the logjam in the West.

“We won four out of six with the exception of yesterday’s game and we basically didn’t move,” Hartley said. “Four out of six, lots of teams would be happy with this. You look at the standings. We didn’t move.”

NOTES: Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik were both absent from practice Tuesday … Kris Russell, who missed Monday’s game, will be further evaluated Tuesday. “We thought that he could play yesterday and right in warm-up, as soon as he stepped on the ice for warm-up, we knew it was no go,” Hartley said. “We’ve shut him down.” Russell is day-to-day … Ramo is expected to undergo an MRI for his lower body injury sustained Thursday against the San Jose Sharks.

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