CALGARY, AB -- With eight games remaining in the regular season, Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley isn't concerned about his poker face.
A critical five-game road trip facing the Flames, one that could have serious implications on their bid to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, instead has Hartley insisting Calgary's crew is all in.
"It seems that we always find a way to elevate our games in situations that we need to and right now we're all in," Hartley said. "The chips are all on the table right now. There's no bluffs. We have to come up with our best performances and it's fun. I'm enjoying the games. The players are on the job. This city is right behind us."
The Flames, who completed a five-game homestand with a 2-1-2 record following a 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, begin their final extended road trip of the season Friday against the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-WI, FS-N+). It continues against the Nashville Predators, Stars, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers.
Calgary will start the trip on the outside looking in.
In ninth place in the Western Conference, the Flames are one point behind the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division and three behind the Vancouver Canucks for second.
The Winnipeg Jets, who hold the second wild card into the playoffs from the West, are three points up on Calgary. The Flames have one game at hand on Winnipeg.
"You can have brain damage worrying about all the different gyrations of who beats who and looking out of town," Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. "(I) broke my TV a couple nights ago, so there's no more scoreboard watching. At the end of the day, you have to win your games. You have to get your points.
"You've got to be careful. You can come to work the next day with a frown on because Team X, Y, Z lost and you didn't play."
With eight skates left on the Flames' docket, Calgary's five game, 10-day stint away from home is critical.
But it's not necessarily uncharted territory for the rebuilding group.
The Flames went 4-2-1 on a season-high seven-game road trip through late February and early March, enabling them to keep pace with some of the West's surging teams. That trip, which saw captain Mark Giordano go down with a season-ending injury, fell in the must-win category too.
"We've been sort of in this mode for a while," Treliving said. "There was a road trip a few weeks ago that was make or break, and I remember a road trip in October being make or break. We've got one game -- (Friday) night -- and that's the focus. Let's dive into that one and we'll worry about the next ones as they come.
"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. This isn't a five-game road trip, it's one game five times, and that's the way we have to look at it right now."
Coaches and management have bought into that philosophy, hoping it will lead the Flames to their first playoff appearance since a first-round exit in six games at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009.
So too have the players.
"It kind of feels like since we did that nine-game losing streak (in December), it's been make or break," alternate captain Kris Russell said. "We've been playing playoff hockey for a while. It doesn't change. Obviously it gets tougher on the road, but we've played well on the road too. It's a big challenge for us and I think we're excited for it.
"This is a fun time of year. Obviously we've got to keep winning and we've got to keep putting points on the board. Our main goal is to make the playoffs, but we're a long ways away with eight games left. It's just trying to keep improving, keep getting better and just having fun with it as well."
To Hartley, though, it's about one goal.
One he's been preaching from the onset of the season, when few gave his group a chance to be in the position to have a five-game road trip that starts in late March matter.
"I was very open at the start of the year," Hartley said. "I said that our goal was to be in the playoffs, and obviously it's easy for me as basically the spokesman of this organization on a day-to-day basis to say because what else could I say? If I come in and tell you guys and then I go in the locker room and say, 'it's OK to be mediocre' and 'we're in rebuilding' and 'we're going to do our best,' I don't think that’s what hockey fans in Calgary want to listen (to), plus this is not the culture we want to establish here.
"Mediocrity is not part of our dictionary. We want to keep going and to make sure that we hold everyone in this organization to the highest standards possible."
Author: Aaron Vickers | NHL.com Correspondent