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Tkachuk and Flames focusing on Game 5 and getting that victory under their belt

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Their world, for all intents and purposes, has shrunken to 60 minutes of stop time.

Or 65. Or 70.

Sunday is the height of irrelevance at the moment. Big pictures are the luxury of others in more secure situations; horizons for landscape painters.

There is only this. The here-and-now. Smack dab in front of them.

Whatever it takes. However it happens.

"You can't stay alive in this series unless you win this next one,'' said Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames' charter having touched down following the two-and-a-half-hour junket from Denver.

"That's all we're focused on.

"Time is kinda running out. We've got to find a way to play our best hockey.

"And no better time than in Game 5, in front of our fans. We're going to need them to be at their loudest, their most passionate, all year.

"They can help us turn this around."

The conference-topping Flames need to move - and quickly - past the mule-kick of another late lead gone awry, shunting them 3-1 in series arrears of the Colorado Avalanche.

"You've got to have some mental toughness and not think that way,'' said boss Bill Peters of focusing on winning three games before the first two are even contested. "It's one shift at time and then a period at time.

"The personality of the group, the resiliency of the group: They've done it all year.

"I know they believe in themselves. They have some confidence in themselves."


Video: "We're still alive. I believe in this group."


So do the Avs, particularly with their big guns - Nathan McKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, primarily - in particularly fine fettle thus far.

"The MacKinnon line,'' praised Peters, "has been outstanding. Whether it's with (Alexander) Kerfoot orcRantanen, it's (about) limiting the chances. They're a good line. We know that.

"So let's be aggressive and play smart.

"We need more from everybody. We haven't scored enough, given up too many chances. You guys like to whittle it down to individuals, we don't.

"We're going to win or lose as a team. We need more. We need more across the board."

The Avalanche have been displaying the degree of resiliency the Flames seek, concocting a way to tie Game 2 at 17:25 of the third period and then Game 4 with 2:50 left, giving themselves the opportunity to pull themselves back from the abyss.

"We're in overtime twice, right?" reasoned Peters. "Had two looks to win it in both games. Didn't go in.

"That's sport, right?

"Now we've gotta bounce back and play our best game tomorrow. What's done is done. We move on."

To a defining moment for this group, this year. Only when that is safely in storage can they glance ahead to a next one.

"I thought we played a pretty good game last night, just obviously not the result we wanted," said centre Derek Ryan, whose first-ever playoff strike 6:58 into Period 3 Wednesday had given Calgary what seemed at the time a comfortable 2-0 lead. "There's obviously little tweaks we'll make but I thought we had the right mentality, the right mindset.

"We played hard.

"We gave up a little more than we wanted to but we had a two-goal lead with 10 minutes left in the game … and it's hard to argue against that.

"For sure it's tough to be down 3-1, it's not where we expected to be but I don't think we took Colorado lightly.

"They're a great team. We knew that. Look at their record the last 10 games of the season and the teams they beat. Pretty hard to underestimate a team like that."


Video: "We've got to get off to a good start tomorrow."


Over the 130 minutes and change contested at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche pelted Flames' goalie Mike Smith - certainly doing his bit through four starts - with 108 official shots. Doesn't take a Sam Pollock hockey mind - even factoring in a percentage from less than high-risk areas - to figure out that's a whack too many. 

"It's human to be a little frustrated,'' acknowledged Tkachuk of the hole he and his mates find themselves trying to shimmy out of. "Two of the last three games go into overtime. We had a chance to win both of them.

"But there's nothing you can do about it now. Now all you can control is the way you prepare for tomorrow's game and tomorrow all you can control is how you go out and perform.

"We've still alive. We still believe in ourselves.

"We've won three games in a row a lot of times this year. I believe in this group."

The collective aim being to find themselves clambering back aboard the same aircraft Saturday for a return flight to the Mile High City.

There is only this. Whatever it takes. However it happens.

"You come in and your mindset has to be that your back's against the wall,'' said Tkachuk. "You do everything in your power to win this game.

"It's about matching up against whoever you're playing against and winning that battle.

"There's no saving it anymore.

"Your ability to perform has got to be at its highest.

"We're just focused on this one game - because there might not be another game - and seeing where it can take us."

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