NEW YORK CITY, NY -- The importance of the next two weeks isn’t lost under the bright lights of the Big Apple.
With the Calgary Flames on the outside looking in at the playoff picture and starting a season-high seven-game road trip, Tuesday’s start at the historic Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is an important first step.
“We understand the situation we're in and we're enjoying it because for the first time in quite a few years we're playing games that mean something,” coach Bob Hartley said. “Is it a big trip? Yes, that's the way the schedule is done. We put ourselves in that situation and it's very positive.
"We'll have to do it by ourselves. It doesn't seem like we're going to get any help from anyone so we'll have to do it the right way."
The right way involves not looking at the road trip as a single entity.
Instead, the Flames plan on breaking it down and taking it game-by-game, period-by-period shift-by-shift.
"Everybody feels really good,” said defenceman Raphael Diaz, who was with the Rangers on their run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring. “I think that's what you want as a hockey player -- important games. Now we're starting to get down to less and less games. Every game is important for us and I think it's really good competition for the entire team to [look at] every game like a playoff game.
“We play tonight and then tomorrow's game. I think we need to take it period-by period and shift-by-shift and not look too far away. I think being in the moment right now is really important.
"Every single game is important right now. The standings are so close and I've never seen it like that. It was probably a long time ago it was so close and so many teams can make the playoffs by themselves with points. I think it's a good thing. I'm really excited for those games. It's a big road trip coming up."
Calgary trails the Minnesota Wild by one point for the second of two wild-card spots in the Western Conference and are three back of the Winnipeg Jets for the first wild-card spot with two games at hand. They sit at 68 points alongside the Los Angeles Kings, who hold a game over the Flames and sit in third in the Pacific Division.
The Vancouver Canucks, second in the Pacific, are within striking distance, too. The Canucks sit at 71 points.
"Everybody feels really good. I think that's what you want as a hockey player -- important games,” Diaz said. “Now we're starting to get down to less and less games. Every game is important for us and I think it's really good competition for the entire team to [look at] every game like a playoff game. I think it's exciting."
The Flames will have their hands full Tuesday. New York has won back-to-back games and has gone eight straight without a regulation loss. They also boast Rick Nash, who is one goal off the League-lead of 38 held by Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin.
"He's been on fire, that's what we've noticed, and so have the 28 other teams,” Hartley said. “You look at their lineup, it's built on speed and it's built on balance. Obviously when your best players are your best players it makes for a great season. It's not by luck that the Rangers have lost only once in regulation in their last 10 games."
Diaz has his former teammates scouted well, too.
"I expect a really skilled team,” he said. “They have some really skilled forwards and really fast forwards. I think the goaltenders play really well. They are a really complete team."
In all, it will be an immediate challenge to kick off seven straight on the road.
"I really believe that tonight is going to be a four-line battle and that's where we need everyone on their toes, everyone ready to go,” Hartley said. “Let’s drop the puck and may the best team win."
"He's coming back where many great things happened in his hockey career. It's going to be great, he's going to see lots of family, lots of friends. He has a chance to play NHL hockey and right now he's around places that he achieved quite a bit so it's going to be fun."
-Hartley on Johnny Gaudreau
Tonight's game will be broadcast on Sportsnet West (TV) and Sportsnet 960 The FAN (radio). Game time is 5:00 PM MT. Channel numbers for Telus, Shaw, and Bell users can be found on our Broadcast Schedule page.
@NHLFlames will be live-tweeting the game and providing pre and post-game content. Fans can also follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #CGYvsNYR
The Calgary Flames official app is another way to follow along with the action, with goal and period summary notifications. The app is free and available to download on iTunes and the Google Play store.
NOTES: Karri Ramo is expected to start for the Flames…After being recalled from Adirondack of the AHL on Monday, Emile Poirier and Michael Ferland will be game-time decisions…Paul Byron has been placed on IR and Matt Stajan is on leave (non-roster) for the expectant birth of his child.