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Flames hit road for three in the east

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

Nine.

That's what's left for the Calgary Flames. Nine games. The potential for 18 points. Straight ahead a three-game road trip to Long Island, Boston and Washington.

Without catching any help from other teams in their quest for a playoff spot, the Flames head east knowing full well this is crunch time. Do or die time.

Perhaps the one phrase that is rolling off the lips of coaches and players alike is "Every game is like a Game 7."

Even the most recent call-ups, including forward Brett Sutter who played his first NHL game of the season on Tuesday as the Flames downed Anaheim 3-1 know the story.

"I am familiar with the situation," said Sutter, the son of Flames general manager Darryl Sutter. "Every game is a Game 7 from here on out. You've got to stay positive. You can't scoreboard watch all the time. It's about getting the points that are on the table for us and hopefully everything works out."

It's not the prettiest position to be facing -- a Game 7 elimination every night. At the same time that urgency is expected to bring with it the desperate type of hockey that is required to win during the final stretch of the regular season an into the playoffs.

"We have to find a way every night," said veteran Craig Conroy. "We'd love to win 5-1 and score lots of goals. But if it is 1-0 or if we are down and have to come back and tie it up and win it, we have to do it. Other teams have been doing it. Now we have to find a way to do it."

On Tuesday, the Flames did just that. Tied 1-1 late in the second period Jarome Iginla made a nice tip check inside the Flames line, knocking the puck off the stick of Corey Perry and sending Rene Bourque in on a breakaway to score his 23rd of the season. Then Niklas Hagman, who admittedly had been struggling offensively, sealed the deal with a third period goal.

"You try and create a lot of chances and eventually it will go in," said Hagman. "It had been a while so this one felt good."

Indeed, the Flames can feel good as they leave for this three-game trip.

"They are not all going to be pretty wins in an 82-game schedule," said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "The important thing for us is the win.

"For us the next one is even bigger game than this one. And it is going to be that way all the way down the line. So we need bigger efforts from everyone."

The Flames have run into a bit of an injury bug lately as forwards Daymond Langkow, Christopher Higgins and Curtis Glencross are all sidelined. That has forced the Flames to use younger players like Mikael Backlund and call up players like Sutter, to fill in.

"We're all NHL players. We're all capable of stepping in and getting it done," said forward Eric Nystrom.

Head coach Brent Sutter said there is no time to worry about the line-up.

"Right now we can't dwell on who is in the line-up and who isn't. Others get an opportunity to step in and step up," he said. "If we don't take care of our own business, everything else is irrelevant."

Conroy said losing experienced players like Higgins, Glencross and Langkow is tough. However, he also noted that adding the youth of Sutter and Backlund can inject some enthusiasm. "They bring a lot of excitement. They are psyched up. You can see it when they do play. Backlund, his first game back, I was like 'Wow, he's flying'. He looked awesome. When you are watching and you get in, you don't want to be too nervous, too excited.. You want to go out and play your game.

"Obviously you don't want to lose those guys but the guys coming in, they look great."

Sutter, who started the season playing on the wing but moved to centre more recently, played ont he fourth line with Eric Nystrom and Jamal Mayers on Tuesday and wasted little time making his mark and getting rid of any nerves. He dropped the gloves with Duck defenceman Brett Festerling and promptly KO'ed him with a hard right hand. Sutter should have no problem fitting into the Flames system or what the coaches expect -- Brent Sutter coached his nephew in junior in Red Deer for a season.

"I know what he is all about and what his expectations are and I am prepared to meet that," said Sutter, who had nine goals and 15 assists in 66 games with the Abbotsford Heat, the Flames top affiliate in the American Hockey League, before being recalled. "It's my job not to vary...from the player I am and and try to fit in and play the game I am expected to play."

Coach Sutter noted that the Flames had lost three penalty-killers to injuries and that Brett Sutter can play in that role.

"He has played well in Abbotsford. He's been one of the top players down there since Christmas. He just needs to come in and play the way he can play.It's a great opportunity for him to show he belongs in the NHL right now."

The Flames, meanwhile, want to show they belong in the post-season.

"There's no time for excuses," said captain Jarome Iginla. "We have to win a lot of these remaining games."

All nine would be nice but perhaps a tad unrealistic.

"We control our own fate. The reason we are in this position is because of the way we played earlier in the season. We have a chance to put together a good string and redeem ourselves during the stretch by winning games," said Nystrom.







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