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FORWARD FOCUS

No sense wallowing in recent defeats, says Ward. The team must set sights on the 'WIN - What's Important Now.' And that's getting back on the right track, starting Saturday against Canucks

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Geoff Ward was not about to mince words.

His passionate, post-game comments were intended to light a fire.

To shed light on the fix - the way forward.

And most importantly, to calm the waters and block out the noise.

 

Video: "It's time to park it"

 

Following a 3-2 defeat to the Nashville Predators Thursday night - a third consecutive L, as part of a 2-4-2 stretch, with both victories coming in a shootout - the interim bench boss held court at the podium and sharply assessed the "identity" crisis, "compete," and diminishing "desperation" his team has shown of late.

But that was then. 

In the past.

On Friday, the troupe put their work boots on, turned the page and looked forward to what matters most: The next one. 

"I've been around this game enough years to understand exactly where you need to be - right now - here today," Ward said. "I always live by the acronym WIN - What's Important Now. 

"Last night, I said what I said, I stand by it, and today, it's a new day, and what's important for us as a group today is to move forward and have something positive happen."

Earlier Friday and again afterward, Ward spoke to the importance of the players taking over the room at this time of year, with star players and veterans alike rising to the occasion and welcoming the opportunity in front of them.

"We can't feel every time that we lose a hockey game that the bottom of the earth is falling out, or that every time we win a hockey game that we're ready to raise the Stanley Cup," Ward said. 

"For us, it's one game, one day at a time in a process. And right now, we're on this journey together - and I'll tell you, it's an awful lot easier to go on that journey together when you're having fun together, when you're excited about it. But when you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders and everything seems to be heavy, it makes things way, way difficult, and makes the hill harder to climb than it needs to be. 

"That's the message we're talking about every day."

"This is the most exciting time of the year. … We've got to make sure that we welcome the opportunity to become battle-tested."

Suddenly, the Flames find themselves in a dogfight, with the Predators closing the gap for the second and final wild-card playoff spot. 

The Preds and Winnipeg Jets are now only one point in arrears, with the former holding two games in hand. The Chicago Blackhawks have also clawed their way back into contention, and trail the Flames by two with one game in hand. 

But with a pivotal, Hockey Day clash on tap with the first-place Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, the Flames had no choice but to move on and put their best foot forward with a quality, pre-flight practice. 

"We'll see," Ward said, when asked if he expects a more focused response Saturday. "That's up to them.

"We'll prepare them the way that we need to prepare them, but at the end of the day, the response comes from the guys that are playing the game. That's the way it's always been, and that's the way that it always will be. The game is the players' game and at a certain point in the day, you've got to hand it over to them and they take it on. 

"That's where we're at. 

"We've done everything we feel we need to do today to park what went on yesterday, we'll prepare to move on from it, and we'll see what happens in tomorrow's hockey game."

The Flames have the talent to be an elite team in this league. They won the Pacific Division last year with 50 wins and 107 points, and return the same core that lit up the West offensively.

 

Video: "We've got to treat this as a must-win"

 

"Today was a good start," Sean Monahan said of getting back to that pace. "I thought there was good energy here. We've got to go into Van and put our best game on the table. Three losses in a row - it's not acceptable and like I said, we've got to find ways to win. We've got to treat this as a must-win. Obviously, this is a crucial part of the season and we've got to treat this as a must-win and put our best game on the table."

They've done it. 

They can do it again.

The key is getting back to that level, and fast. 

"What we've shown is that we're a winning team," Ward said. "But what we're trying to aspire to is become a contending team. We've got to learn the lessons that are involved in that, and we've got to make sure that we're paying attention to them. 

"That happens over different time periods with different teams based on leadership, based on the supporting case, based on... I can name X number of factors for you. Looking at the character of our players and the makeup of our team and all of that, we feel that we're still moving in that direction. If we're sitting here and we're saying that we're a losing team - which would be shown by record and a whole lot of other things - then we've got a whole different challenge. 

"For us, we feel that we're ready to take that next step and now, as a group, we've got to make sure that we're doing the things we need to do to make it happen."

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