CALGARY, AB -- Good days and bad.
Strikes and gutters.
They’ve all become moot.
Because the margin of error is slimming for the Calgary Flames, as goaltender Jonas Hiller described.
“You’re not allowed to lose too many games now until the end of the year,” said Hiller, Monday’s starter when the Flames host the Anaheim Ducks at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“If you don’t play well as a goalie, you can easily lose a game for your team. One or two bad goals and you lose instead of winning. It definitely puts some pressure on the goalies, but at the same time I’m trying to focus on every game. I don’t think the mindset changes a whole lot with the position we’re in, but you definitely have that in the back of your mind.
“You aren’t allowed to have too many bad games right now.”
It’s an understatement.
The wiggle room is near non-existent for the Flames.
After splitting back-to-back road games against rivals in the Pacific Division, Calgary, sixth, trails the third-place Ducks by nine points. It’s the same spread between the Flames and Colorado Avalanche, who hold the second wild card entry into the playoffs.
Twenty-eight games remain.
“Goaltending … if we’re going to be a playoff team, goaltending will have to be the story until the end of the year,” Calgary coach Bob Hartley confessed.
“It’s a great opportunity. He’s a vet. He knows. He’s out of a contract at the end of the year. Our two goalies are out of contracts at the end of the year. There’s lots of attention on those guys. Many eyes are watching. But at the same time, as a goalie, there’s not many things that you can do except stop the puck. Stopping the puck gives lots of confidence to your team. It gives lots of momentum. Hills’ experience will be a big help for himself and for our team. Then, lets get on a role. Give us some big performances night after night.
“We’re going to shock the hockey world.”
Hiller’s role will be to man the buzzer.
With fellow netminder Karri Ramo’s status far from certain, the 34-year-old Hiller will be given ample opportunity in the crease.
And with an 8-6-1-1 record, a 3.04 goals against average, and .894 save percentage, the opportunity to build is now.
“You have to get confident in your game again every time you’re out there,” Hiller said. “If you play more games in a row, you can go out there and still feel confident from the game before. If a game doesn’t go that well, it gives you not too much time to think about it so you can go right out there and have a chance to do better. That’s the nice part. I’m not getting too far ahead here. I want to play well tomorrow and win two points.”
Hiller missed 13 games because of a lower-body injury sustained against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 28. By the time he returned to the lineup, the Swiss netminder saw the starting position usurped by Ramo.
Its limited Hiller to just 10 starts, including four this month, since.
Hello from the other side.
“Rams took advantage of Hills injury. Now the roles have flipped,” Hartley said. “Now it’s up to Hills. The situation is right in front of him and we have the utmost confidence in him. Get us some wins … get on a roll exactly like Rams did. That’s what we need. You look at the teams on a run right now and they’re getting goaltending. This game is so tight, this league is so tight and there’s so many one-goal games that one save can make the difference in any single game.”
With Ramo’s status leaning heavily towards “it doesn’t look good” territory, it’s become Hiller’s turn to run with the heavy workload.
“I guess its part of it,” Hiller said. “You have to take things how they come. I’ve never made any long-term plans in this business. I stopped doing that a long time ago. You never know what happens. It can be this way the one day and everything changes the next day. I take the things that come and don’t get too far ahead and just if I get a chance to play I try to play as well as I can.
“I don’t think a lot changes in my mindset. No matter whatever game I play, I want to play as good as possible. It might be a few more games, but at the same time I have to play well and play my best to win as a team.”