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Flames Ready for Strong Finish

by Peter Zuurbier / Calgary Flames
The Flames hustled through a brisk practice early Thursday afternoon, confident that if they play in Edmonton the way they did in Vancouver, that the results they both desire and need, will come.

Head Coach Mike Keenan was impressed with his team, and saw a great deal of good in the tough loss against Vancouver Tuesday evening.

"Our stamina was incredible, our perseverance, our determination, our investment in the game... we had a very strong response in playoff-like game at this time of year, which was very positive," said Keenan.

"Seeing the prep of the team and they way they responded, you like to see that at this time of year."

Newest Flame Olli Jokinen is content with his teams' performance, and upbeat heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

"We had a huge game a couple of nights ago in Vancouver, tomorrow's game is going to be even bigger," said Jokinen.

"We did a lot of good things in that game... if we can play the way we did in Vancouver we really like our chances."

Teammate Daymond Langkow shares Jokinen's satisfaction with the groups play and remains confident.

"We just have to play our game, play the way we played in Vancouver and we should get a better result," said Langkow.

The team is well-aware that despite the fact Edmonton is not going to be joining them in the playoffs; the Oilers will indeed be looking to torpedo the Flames' aspirations for the Northwest Division title. Flames' captain Jarome Iginla feels maintaining consistancy will be the key to success this weekend.

"We know Edmonton will be disappointed, but I imagine they would like to rain on our party... from our point of view we just want to keep doing and keep getting better at the things we have been doing," said Iginla

"We've got 48 hours of games left... we want both of them."

Both Daymond Langkow and Olli Jokinen agree with their captain on what needs to be done.

"We're playing for first in the division, and I'm sure they'd like nothing better than to spoil that," said Langkow.

"We've got to focus on our game and play 60 minutes hard... when the puck drops we know they're going to be ready," said Jokinen.

Claiming the division title is the final goal of the regular season, but veteran players like Jarome Iginla feel it's more important to be playing at the highest level possible than to worry about standings.

"I don't think it's all just about the division, but if we keep playing our best that'll probably lead to winning the division," said Iginla.

"I think it's going in the right direction and that's the most important thing... we don't have to watch Vancouver."

With the playoffs mere days away, the excitement around the city of Calgary is palpable. For newcomers Mike Cammalleri and Olli Jokinen, this is their first taste of playoff hockey in a city that gets behind their team like no other.

"I have a pretty good idea of what it might be like, having a good feeling now for the city, and the support, I can imagine it'll be everything I've heard, and more," said Cammalleri

"It'll be all that I hoped for if we win 16 games in the postseason."

"People (in Calgary) are really passionate here about hockey, it's gonna be a great experience," agreed Jokinen.

There is some lingering concern about the team's power-play, but Jarome Iginla is confident more effort can turn reverse their fortunes with the man-advantage.

"We're gonna get back at (the power-play), we're gonna keep working at it, we know we need it," said Iginla, who believes the group is coming along.

"In the last 5-6 games we're been doing a lot of things that are right... getting closer to where our game needs to be."

Notable absences from today's practice included Dion Phaneuf, Craig Conroy, and David Moss. All three were given the day off to rest and are expected back on the ice tomorrow. Coach Keenan said at this time of year it is common practice to rest players.

"We watch very closely the work to rest ratio at this time of year," said Keenan.

Defensemen Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich remain sidelined, but coach Keenan hopes to have at least Regehr back for the post-season.

"He (Regehr) will not be back for the regular season, but I expect he'll be back for the playoffs," said Keenan.

The injuries on the back-end have provided opportunities for young prospects like Matt Pelech and John Negrin to gain valuable experience. Forward Curtis Glencross sees the benefit in having the prospects playing meaningful hockey before the real pressure begins.

"It's a good opportunity for a lot of the young guys to get in and step up... if someone goes down in the playoffs then we can count on them then," said Glencross.

The blueline injuries may open up an opportunity for Rhett Warrener, who has battled a shoulder injury all season but claims to be almost fully-healed. Coach Keenan is leaving Warrener's availability up to the team's training staff, but he certainly is open to the possibility of having Warrener join the playoff roster.

"That's a non-coaching decision," said Keenan, "put it this way, in playoff hockey anything is viable... you have to look at all the options that are available to you."

With mere hours left in the 2008/09 regular season, the team can taste the playoffs, but are doing their best to focus their energy on the remaining two games against the Oilers. Though Olli Jokinen has never engaged in a 'Battle of Alberta,' he is revelling in the moment, enjoying playing important games this late in the season.

"It's always exciting to put your gear on, it doesn't really matter who you play... if you're not ready to play tomorrow, I don't know if you're gonna be ready all year," said Jokinen.

The Flames battle the Oilers in Edmonton Friday at 7:00 pm on Sportsnet West and The Fan 960.

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