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'MAKE ANOTHER STATEMENT'

Flames look to extend winning streak - and the smiles and fun that are coming with it

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

SCOTTSDALE - Twenty-five years later, NHL94 remains one of the best video games of all-time. 

It has a certain … nostalgic feel that makes the experience indisputably amazing. 

If the arcade-like feel and choppy, eight-bit graphics were still around today, kids would be lining up in droves to return their still-sealed Christmas gifts in a few weeks' time. Guaranteed. 

 

Video: Flames go for six straight wins

 

But it's a classic for those of us who grew up with it. And that experience left a lasting impression on what the game (real and otherwise) is all about. 

Just ask Milan Lucic and Rasmus Andersson. 

Both offered a nod to the quarter century-old classic last night, celebrating a second-period goal like the cavemen characters in that childhood staple: Both hands on the stick, aloft high over their heads, raising it up and down every so slowly, as if to re-live the glory of a goal scored with the game's patented one-timer. 

It was a scene, alright.

Not only are the Flames winning - stretching a season-long streak to five with last night's triumph - they're coming together and having fun doing it. 

In that moment, it was clear. 

The swagger's back. 

"I've been texting with my friends and family a lot," said Derek Ryan, who scored the '94' goal and extended his personal point streak to three games in the process. "It's more fun when we're winning. It's a completely different mindset compared to that losing streak that we had. It's not as fun, it's not as vibrant, and there isn't as much energy in the dressing room and around the rink.

"Now, it's fun, the guys are smiling, the coaches are smiling, the GM is smiling. 

"Just brings a lot more fun and energy to the rink."

 

Video: "I think we can make another statement here"

 

And rightfully so. 

With five consecutive victories, including a wildly entertaining overtime decision against the nemesis Avalanche, the Flames have climbed right back into the race, and currently occupy a Pacific playoff spot, four back of the division leaders:

The Edmonton Oilers and - yes - tonight's foe, the Arizona Coyotes. 

"It was a gutsy win," said Ryan, who has five points (1G, 4A) in his last three games. "We knew that before the game - we were talking about how important the game was going to be on a lot of different levels. For this year, the roll we've been on, the standings... [it was] a statement game for last year. 

"It's regular season, so you can't really call it revenge, but it still feels good to go into that building and get a win and to play as well as we did.

"That game was a huge step for us. I think this game in Arizona is another huge step as well.

"I think we can make another statement.

"And that's what we're looking to do tonight."

 

Video: "It's always nice ... to get another start quickly"

 

The Flames are expected to go with the same group of forwards and defencemen, with the lone change coming in goal, where Cam Talbot has been tapped for the second time in three nights. 

He says the change in the team's mindset has been especially noticeable on the bench. 

Gone is the negativity that often enveloped them early in games last month.  

Now, it's more of a fighter's mindset: Don't get down. Hit back. 

Hard. 

"It's confidence," Talbot said. "You can see it on the bench now that anytime we get scored on, there's no let-down; doesn't feel like the air has been let out of us. We pick our guys right back up and go about our business on the next shift. 

"That's been huge. … Those are character wins that you need to put yourself back into the thick of things.

"We're managing momentum shifts a lot better, especially in a building like that last night, because they feed off their crowd.

"It's a light mood, because guys are going out there and having fun. On the bench, there's a lot more discussion going on. It's not negative, guys aren't getting down as much as before. 

"But there's also the business side of it, too, where we know that we've still got to put our work boots on and go to work every night. There's no easy game in this league, so as much as you want to keep it light and keep the boys upbeat on the bench, there's still that business attitude."

 

Video: "Every single guy ... is doing important things"

 

So, don't - for a second - think the Flames are satisfied.

There's always room to grow. 

A win tonight would turn a good trip into a great one, and it would set themselves up well for a critical, pre-holiday homestand that begins on Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

"You're never satisfied, in terms of how your team is playing," said interim head coach Geoff Ward. "The bigger challenge, and the more important challenge, is that you want to be playing your best hockey at the right time of the year. … For us, the fact that we're building, that we've had some adversity, is good for us. It helps us establish our core values and reaffirm those things, and it helps us establish an identity. 

"Right now, you're starting to see that our team is developing an identity, and that's good."

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