CALGARY -- The word around the Calgary Flames dressing room -- repeated almost like a mantra, non-stop all week -- was "focus." Focus was what the Flames lost during their game on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings, in which they had an opportunity to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Instead, the game turned into a distracting sideshow. For days, Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk had indulged in a mostly one-sided war of words with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty after Tkachuk's elbow to Doughty's head in their previous meeting got him a two-game suspension.
The problem was, the Kings -- clinging to their playoff lives -- did a far better job of staying with the task at hand and defeated the semi-distracted Flames.
So Tkachuk learned a lesson in NHL life, and on Friday, when the Flames faced the San Jose Sharks at Scotiabank Saddledome, he and the Flames were back on track.
Playing poised and disciplined hockey, the Flames defeated the Sharks 5-2, enabling them to reach the postseason for the second time in the past three seasons. Calgary trails San Jose by one point for third place in the Pacific Division.
Much of what's gone right in Calgary can be traced to the vastly improved goaltending from Brian Elliott, who made 36 saves against the Sharks.
Video: SJS@CGY: Elliott uses his mask to stop Vlasic's shot
"He's been our MVP throughout this whole run," Flames captain Mark Giordano said.
After finishing 30th in the League defensively a season ago, the Flames scoured the goalie market and came up with two new faces -- Elliott, acquired in a draft-day trade with the St. Louis Blues, and Chad Johnson, signed as a free agent, who had a lot of early success.
But Elliott eventually took over as the de facto No. 1, and is 15-2-1 in his past 18 decisions. Elliott led the NHL in goals-against average last season, so his ability to find a niche in Calgary is probably no surprise, though it did take some time for him to find his groove.
The Sharks lost for the fifth time in six decisions and goalie Martin Jones was replaced for the start of the third period by Aaron Dell.
"[Elliott] was fantastic," Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said. "He's the reason we got these two points. Huge saves. Even at the end with six minutes left, a big save after their goal.
"No question he was the guy that got us the two points."
Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan scored to give Calgary a 2-0 lead. Matt Stajan, Alex Chiasson and Sam Bennett, who had an empty-net goal, also scored. Twelve Flames have reached double-digits in goals this season, led by Monahan's 27.
The Sharks and Flames have been on opposite runs of late. On Jan. 24, San Jose was 31-16-2 and comfortably atop the Pacific Division. The Flames were 24-24-3 and had lost four games in a row when the normally mild-mannered Gulutzan went off on his team, criticizing their play after a 5-1 loss at Montreal.
On the post-game train ride from Montreal to Ottawa, the players talked it out and played with renewed purpose in the next game, a 3-2 win against the Senators on Jan. 26.
Video: SJS@CGY: Elliott turns away Pavelski at the doorstep
From that moment, until the game when Tkachuk elbowed Doughty, the Flames went on an 18-3-1 run, highlighted by a 10-game winning streak.
"You can go on a 10-0 run and you can easily go on an 0-10 run in this League," Elliott said. "They slipped a little bit and we played well.
"It's how the story goes right now. It says a lot of this group to have the confidence in themselves to not get down when the roller-coaster ride was on its way down, and not get too high either. We did a good job to stay level-headed, and I think that was the key to this clinch, for sure."
San Jose's lead over Calgary, once 13 points, is down to one, and the teams meet again on April 8 in the final game of the season. It will be a compelling race to the finish.
"The difference is so small," Sharks defenseman Brent Burns said. "That half step, that half second, miscommunication, whatever it is, that can change the game a lot and make it look like a 5-2 game.
"You've just got to work through it. We're working now and it's not working. You've got to just push through. We know we're a great team. We've got to get back there. Who knows? We've got to see a witch doctor or something, I think. We'll see."