CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames didn't kick off the 2010-11 campaign the way they would
have liked to.
They struggled right from the gate, going 14-18-3 in their first 35 games. Sitting in the basement of the Western Conference with just the Edmonton Oilers sitting below them, a climb back into the tightly packed Western Conference looked nearly impossible for the embattled club.
"You look at five, six weeks ago when we were nine or ten points out of a playoff spot, things weren't very good around here," said defenceman Adam Pardy. "Guys were grumbling and it wasn't very fun to come to the rink."
Then, on Dec. 23, the Flames were able to climb back from a 2-1 third period deficit against the Dallas Stars. Pushing the game to extra time, Calgary managed to win in a shootout. That win seemed to flip a switch and from that point forward, the Flames have a mere three regulation losses in their last 21 games.
What has sparked such a dramatic change in the team?
"We're just having fun. Guys are stepping up their games," Pardy stated. "We're winning games, feeling good, guys are doing things right and we're playing together as a group. We're getting wins and we're right back in the hunt."
Having fun is one thing but the Flames have seemed like a much more focused group over the last month and a half. Winger Curtis Glencross credits that to a shift in the team's mentality when it comes an overall game plan. Since that turnaround in late December, the team has been looking at things in three-game increments and not looking further past that.
"We didn't want to look at the big picture. Obviously we were quite a few points out and we didn't want to look at that. We wanted to start everything over," he said. "The coach said 'Let's start every stat right now. The whole standings, let's start at zero and let's go from there,' Ever since then, that's been our mindset and we'll keep plugging away."
Blueliner Cory Sarich also believes this system has been the main factor in the team's ability to push back into a playoff position.
"It's made the goals feel achievable rather than when it's five games, ten games. Guys have embraced it and it's been a good approach for us. It's obviously worked so we're going to stick with that."
Now that team has gotten themselves into the postseason picture, the Flames know they can't let their foot off the pedal. There's just three points separating them from fourth place San Jose and with conference so jam packed, they know falling out of the playoffs isn't out of the question.
"It's going to take about a 60 per cent win rate here to get yourself into the playoffs and guys can't back off now," Sarich said. "We've got to keep pushing towards that. There's no room for getting comfortable. But seeing that we've jumped ahead of a few teams, it gets you excited because that's our ultimate goal here - reach the postseason. We just want to keep moving up."
With so many teams fighting for a playoff spot, teams often get caught watching what other clubs are doing and pinning their hopes not on their own play but other teams failures. The Flames realize this isn't the right approach if they want to continue to build upon their success and have pledged not to fall into that trap.
"At the end of the day, if we take care of our game, we're going to be in," pivot Olli Jokinen said. "That's all that matters. It's not about what other teams are doing. It's about the way we want to play and we've been able to play pretty good hockey the last three or four weeks. We understand that we have to keep that up or even go better the rest of the year."
He added that the rough patches the team hit early actually might have a been a positive thing for the club.
"When you go through some tough times as a team and things don't go your way, you become a lot closer with your teammates and you become a team. I think that's exactly what happened here. In the first 40 games, we felt like we didn't play hard enough. We weren't playing at the level that we're capable of playing. The last little while, we've been able to do that."
With several key Western Conference battles in the near future, the Flames are sticking to the method that has gotten them points in their last nine straight games.
"We're in a playoff spot, which probably surprised a lot of people, but not us in here," said Pardy. "We're doing this together and we're worrying about what we're doing in here, not about what's going on outside the rink. It's a lot fun and it's exciting. It's good to come to the rink and it's always a little easier to play like this."