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STRETCH DRIVE

"Nobody is going to do it for us," says Mike Smith, as team has 12 games left to earn playoff berth

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

The Dirty Dozen.

That's what it has come down to.

"We're no different than anyone else - it's go time,'' said goaltender Mike Smith. "However you mentally get prepared for a game, we need that now.

"From everyone. Me included.

"Whatever it takes.

"If everyone brings their best, and a little bit more, it gives us our best chance to win hockey games.

"You look around the league and it seems like on nights when we need help we're getting it but we can't capitalize, we can't look after ourselves.

"Every game goes by and you don't get points, the season closes in on you pretty quick."

Shrunken, in the blink of an eye, to 12 games.

And, as of Monday morning, two points adrift of the minimum target.

It simply could not be more cut-and-dried.

Regrouping from a 5-2 loss to the NY Islanders Sunday night, the Flames readied for the division/conference/historic rival Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, the second of three consecutive fixtures at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Preparations focused not so much on Connor McDavid and Co., as on themselves and what they need to put a run together.

"We're dwelling on being a little more direct,'' critiqued coach Glen Gulutzan. "Try to get people's ears pinned back early rather than being a little more skill-based at the beginning.

"Getting back to that mentality.

"Like we talked this morning to our group: We're trying to climb a mountain here. We only gotta take what we need because we're getting close to the top.

"We've gotta drop what we don't need and make sure we take the essentials."

For Monday's practice, Kris Versteeg - sidelined since early December after undergoing hip surgery - had re-joined his mates following a few days prep working out in Stockton. A positive development.

But no sign of Matthew Tkachuk, who tripped backwards over a sliding Matthew Barzal in the third period of Sunday night's loss to the Islanders, falling awkwardly to the ice.

No Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund, either.

"We'll have updates on those three guys tomorrow,'' replied Gulutzan.

"We've lots of guys chomping at the bit. We've got Kris Versteeg. We've got Stewie (Chris Stewart), Shorsie (Nick Shore) and Glassy (Tanner Glass).

"So we've got a lot of guys who want to get in the lineup. It's a matter of seeing where we are tomorrow, seeing the health of our guys that played (Sunday), see how they are after a skate, then we'll make our decisions.

"It's too early for me to speculate and draw up a hundred scenarios."

The first order of business is knocking off the Oilers and regaining some degree of traction at home.

"We'd be lying if we sat here and said the home record's not bothering us,'' acknowledged centre Matt Stajan. "It is. But one win, done the right way, and we can get this turned around.

"At the end for the day it's about each guy being in the right mindset every night. No matter where we play. I mean, the game's the same, here or somewhere else.

"So get yourself ready. Something different might work for each guy. But find that something and use it.

"We need to win a game here, the next game here. That's the tonic.

"We've got to go out and get after it right away, instead of feeling our way into games. Especially at home."

A slipshod start, a lack of decisiveness around the opposition net and, yes, a measure of bad fortune conspired to condemn the Flames on Sunday. 

"We went over some clips (Monday),'' said skipper Mark Giordano. "The first few shifts last game weren't nearly good enough and that set the tone for us to chase the whole game.

"We have to realize we have to come out and be ready, with a lot of fire and really play simple at the start of games so we don't get behind like we did (Sunday) night.

"We've reached crunch time here."

Indeed. Wiggle room is now officially at a premium.  

"Nobody,'' said Smith, "is going to do it for us. Coaches don't play the game. Everything that's been said is right. Everything we've talked about makes sense … to me, anyways.

"All we can worry about is tomorrow night's game. What's happened in the past is gone. We just have to focus on coming in and being mentally ready from the start of the game.

"Now it's about putting ego aside and going out and doing it."

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