CALGARY, AB -- The importance of playing meaningful games in the back half of the season isn’t lost on Bob Hartley.
Neither are the points associated with those games.
“For a rare time in the past many years we have a chance to play games that mean something,” the Calgary Flames coach said. “Last year we had a great finish but we had a great finish with very little pressure, very little to prove. I feel we’ve made some huge strides. What we did at the end of last year is probably a great investment for this year, but the cards are on the table. We need to play.
"They’re all Game 7’s. You look in our conference, it’s totally jammed. Dallas, Colorado are making a push. At the same time I think that we’re in a situation where we need to have lots of fun with this. We play to be in the playoffs. There’s 39 games left. Lets be ready.”
Heading into action Wednesday, the Flames (22-18-3) sit fifth in the Pacific Division with 47 points. The San Jose Sharks slot in second at 51. Between the two are the Los Angeles Kings (50 points) and Vancovuer Canucks (49 points).
The wild card paints a similar picture, with Calgary two back of the Canucks for the final playoff spot.
“There’s 78 points left on the table,” Hartley counted. “At the same time, points right now in January will have the same value as points in early April. We understand they’re all very important. They’re far from being do-or-die, but we understand our situation.
“We want to play great hockey.”
A year ago, they did.
From Jan. 14, 2013 onward to the end of the 2013-14 season, the upstart Flames pieced together a 19-16-1 record. The run included a 13-7-0 stretch from the end of the Olympic break onward.
Mikael Backlund is hoping Calgary can cash in on that experience and build when it matters.
“Last year we weren’t in the race but we still wanted to play well in the second half,” he said. “We wanted to beat those guys who were in the race. Last year was a good taste for us. We played really well down the stretch. We’ve got to find a way to play the same way as we did last year and try to be even better, try to have the same excitement as we had last year.
“It’s a little more of a pressure situation this year than last year. We can’t think about that. We’ve got to think of the fun part and enjoy it. It’s been a while since we’ve been in this race. We have to enjoy it as much as possible and have fun with it and play with a lot of passion.”
Johnny Gaudreau is officially Johnny Hockey. The 21-year-old has trademarked the term with patent and trademark offices in both Canada and the United States.
“My agent, at the beginning of the summer, thought it would be a cool idea and we talked about it a little bit and nothing really happened about it,” Gaudreau said. “Recently, I guess the past month here, he saw some things that he didn’t want my name associated with and thought it’d be best to do this.
“Whatever he thinks is best. I’m going to listen to him. He’s been around the business for a while now. I’m just going to listen to him.”
Lewis Gross, Gaudreau’s agent, filed the application on behalf of Gaudreau.
"We were concerned that people were going to abuse the Johnny Hockey name, coming out with Johnny Hockey shirts and stuff and we wanted to make sure that did not occur," Gross told TSN. "We felt that Johnny was going to be a special player and if he takes off the way we felt he could, he has the potential to have endorsement opportunities that could be very valuable."
Gaudreau has been one of the NHL’s best rookies this season and sits third in Flames scoring with 32 points. His 13 goals holds a share of the team-lead with Jiri Hudler.
The reigning Hobey Baker Award winner received the nickname while with Boston College.
“The fans at Boston College were really supportive to me,” Gaudreau said. “I was really happy with the three years I was there. They did a lot for me with the support I had.
“There are things out there I didn’t necessarily want to be associated with. My agent thought it was best to proceed this way.”
RAMO NEARING ACTION
Though he didn’t skate with the team for a second straight day, Karri Ramo is improving and will take to the road with teammates.
“I felt pretty good yesterday,” Ramo said. “I think I’m really close to getting cleared. Medical-wise everything is good. They didn’t want three goalies today. Hopefully tomorrow I’m with the team. I feel good.”
Ramo was placed on IR following a collision with teammate Raphael Diaz in a start against the Detroit Red Wings a week ago.
He skated with the team Monday but hasn’t participated with the full group since.
“He’s feeling much better,” Hartley said. “He’s going to be on the road trip with us. He could have skated with us but I felt that working with (goaltending coach) Jordan (Sigalet) one-on-one. We had a chance to maximize the work for the three goalies.
"We decided to keep Karri with Jordan early in the morning and have [Jonas Hiller] and Joni (Ortio) take the practice.”
NOTES: Hartley said Ortio would get the start Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes…Drew Shore participated in his first practice as a member of the Flames, skating between Lance Bouma and former Denver University teammate Joe Colborne…Sam Bennett and Josh Jooris also skated before the main group with Ramo.