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Flames head out for two-game road swing looking to build on win over Rangers in tight Western Conference race

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The bombardment can seem relentless. 

There is scant little respite, virtually no escape.

"They're everywhere these days,'' mused Flames' winger Andrew Mangiapane.

"In the paper. On TV. In the room.

"With the technology today, turn on your phone and there they are.

"Where you're at. Who you're chasing. Who's chasing you.

"Do I check the standings? Yes and no. I mean, you can't avoid them, not really. Like I said, they're everywhere.

"And I don't think it's a bad thing, understanding where you are in relation to everybody else. But … when you get to the rink and it's time to play, you can't worry about any of that stuff. You can't become pre-occupied.

"It's all about the game you're heading into, about those two points available that night.

"Looking too far ahead can really hurt you."

Yes, we're approaching that time of year again.

Rounds 10-15 of a heavyweight title tiff time. Or rounding the curve to pound down the backstretch at Pimlico in the Preakness.

"Or the back nine at Augusta,'' chimes in Derek Ryan, assuming his golf stance.

When every additional point versus a divisional foe seems like the Lotto Max jackpot.

"Every game from here to the finish is going to be big,'' said Mangiapane, as the Flames finished up Friday practice, the day before chartering to Bloomington, Minn., and the opener of a two-game junket that also includes a stopover in Chicago. "That's no secret."

Closing in on the All-Star break in two weeks or so, the Western Conference is - no smelling-salts surprise here - as crowded as Grand Central Station on a late Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend. Five measly points separate joint-top Colorado and Las Vegas from the currently ninth-positioned Flames. 

Inside the Pacific Division, meanwhile, things are every bit as tense, with only a five-point gap between the top five teams, with the first three gaining automatic playoff qualification.

"I'm definitely aware of where we're at,'' says the rambunctious Sam Bennett. "And every year seems tighter than the last one.

"Personally, I think it helps to know where you are in the standings. I think you need to have a goal as a team, a place you're headed to, so, yeah, I follow it."

Ryan, a casual observer to open any year, admits to taking an extra peek or two starting around this time of a season.

"I don't look every day (at the standings) but I do have a general idea of where we're at,'' he replied. "I bet a lot of guys in here know exactly where we're at, comparatively with other teams.

"I try not to deep-dive into stats too much during a year. I just feel like it's not conducive to playing your best when you start comparing to other guys. Standings are a team stat, though. I mean, I don't wake up and instantly check my phone. I'm not staring at my screen.

"But even if I'm not looking for them, I open up Twitter and there they are. Or in a picture on Instagram.

"So I kind of follow them. Until we get down to the last, oh, 10 or 12 games. That's when everything starts becoming magnified.

"But there's still a lot of hockey left so focusing on playing our game and trusting if we do that then we're going to get the results we're after is what's important right now."

The Flames trek off in good spirits, having beaten the New York Rangers 4-3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday evening.

"As the game went on, I thought we got stronger, particularly defensively,'' reckoned Mangiapane. "There are always areas to clean up. We scored four goals, right? Which is good. But there were more plays to be made out there.

"We've got to be smarter with the puck instead of just throwing it out, almost feeding transition play.

"We're trying to catch teams in front of us. We have ground to make up.

"But we're growing as a group. We're heading in the right direction. You can feel it in here. And that's important this time of the season."

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