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George Johnson: Flames making believers out of everyone

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The chasm between hoping and knowing. The gulf between niggling doubt and incorruptible conviction.

That, Glen Gulutzan knows, is in the final analysis that separates the doers from the dreamers.

"They all train together in the summer," explained the Flames' coach late Sunday afternoon, in the wake of a seventh consecutive victory, 5-2 over the visiting NY Islanders. "I don't know if one guy really outworks the other. They're all in shape now. 

"They can all shoot. They all have skills coaches. They can all skate.

"So what's going to separate us?

"You've got to believe. You've got to be a tight unit. We've tried to cultivate that in the things we value and show and do.

"We're trying to build a culture here.

"Belief's a big part of that.

"When the games are tight, those other things come into play."

Those other things, the intangibles, are propelling the Flames into the thick of the Western Conference playoff debate.

"To be honest, we think we've been doing a lot of good things for a lot of the year,'' said skipper Mark Giordano.

"I think the confidence came, for me, anywhere between getting that point in Vancouver when we dominated and scored late and that Nashville game where we blew a 4-1 lead in their building (and) found a way to come back and get two points.

"Then we started to roll.

"Now you can see it every night. We expect to win. We have that belief. And that's huge for a team in our spot."

That spot is upwards and onwards. In taming the Isles, Calgary - at least temporarily - moved alongside the Anaheim Ducks for the second automatic playoff spot. A little further ahead, the Edmonton Oilers.

They've now established a nine-point gap between themselves and the second and final wild-card post-season RSVP.

 "We've been saying it for the last few games here: It's time to start looking ahead,'' reiterated Giordano. "Trying to start catching the teams ahead of us.

"There are going to be important games. There are going to be opportunities. We've got to stay within striking distance.

"Any time you get on a streak like this, you want to pile up as many as you can. Because you know it's not going to last forever.

"It's fun. They're nice. But you want to pile up as many as you can."

On this matinee Sunday, there were would be none of the drama that's become their recent trademark. No heart-in-mouth theatrics. No late momentarily letdown with 1.8 seconds left in regulation, a la Friday night against Detroit. No 4-1 evaporating into the mists, as Giordano mentioned happened in Music City, USA.

Eight of Calgary's last dozen starts have been decided by one goal. Three of the other four by two.

Sunday, the bolted out to a 4-0 first-period lead and then did a commendable job of piloting with minimum turbulence through the remaining 40 minutes.

"Nice for a change,'' said right-winger Kris Versteeg, one of five Calgary goal scorers on the afternoon. "When you go up 4-0 they're going to open up and making plays.

"So that's when you have to knuckle down, stick with it and wait for our chances to come."

Calgary's four-goal first-period outburst chased Thomas Greiss from the Isles' net but he had, in point of fact, been busy and brilliant before the dam gave way.

Matthew Tkachuk, Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Frolik all had gilt-edged chances turned aside before Frolik caromed a diagonal snooker shot in off the goalie at 14:56.

T.J. Brodie, on another bank job while circling behind the net, and Micheal Ferland, unloading an absolute rocket, pushed the lead to 3-0 before Sean Monahan cashed a Johnny Gaudreau pass off a 3-on-1 break at 19:36.

Four goals in four minutes and 40 seconds.

From then on left the tricky proposition of managing their assets.

"I thought it was good,'' Giordano reasoned. "Until they got that 4-on-4 (goal), a solid, solid effort. I thought we made some mistakes after that, they got one and started pressing.

"But then a big goal to go up 5-1. When you're down three or four you're going to take chances, play pretty loose. They did. We got a bunch of odd-man rushes.

"I thought we did a good job defensively. You know they're going to get some looks. But overall we'll take that any day."

With their 36th win of the season, the Flames surpassed their W total from a year ago.

"The best teams in the league,'' reminded Versteeg, "always have flawless records in terms of holding leads.

"That's what we want to become. So these kinds of games are important to be able to close out. We've come a long ways but we've got to stick with it.

"Everyone here in this room believes."

An ever increasing number of people outside the room, too.

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