CALGARY - Curling has pushed the Calgary Flames out the Saddledome doors and onto their longest road trip of the season.
While their home arena gets prepped for the Canadian men's curling championship starting later this week, the playoff-bubble Flames depart Monday for a seven-game, 13-day swing through the Eastern Conference.
Calgary (32-23-4) opens its trek Tuesday against the New York Rangers followed by the Devils, Islanders, Flyers, Bruins, Red Wings and Senators. They wrap up the trip in Ottawa on March 8 when the Tim Hortons Brier also concludes at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
After five seasons of playoff-free hockey, Calgary's current position is both thrilling and nerve-wracking for Flames Nation.
Los Angeles, Calgary and San Jose were deadlocked at 68 points apiece and ranked in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively in the Western Conference. The Minnesota Wild entered their Sunday home game against the Dallas Stars just one point back.
The Flames are a solid 15-11-1 away from the Saddledome this season, but their record against the Eastern Conference is 8-12-2.
"We know what's at stake. Everyone does," Flames captain Mark Giordano said Sunday. "The one thing is the excitement level for us because we haven't been in this situation in a few years.
"Towards the end, it does get long being away from your family, but I'm a big believer in these road trips. They can be real momentum-builders if you can go and have a successful trip and then we come back and it's literally going to be in the last final sprint."
Calgary's captain believes Tuesday's game at Madison Square Garden and the following night's tilt in Newark against the Devils are keys to success on this tour.
"For me, one of the most important things about long road trips are the starts," Giordano said. "You've got to get off to a good start, get some points early, build some momentum and confidence."
The March 2 trade deadline in the middle of Calgary's trip adds a wrinkle, as forward Curtis Glencross might not return with the team.
Scheduled for unrestricted free agency this summer, the 32-year-old Glencross confirmed last week he's been asked for a list of teams he'd consent to join.
While the Flames have exceeded expectations this season and have an abundance of cap space with which to work, general manager Brad Treliving isn't willing to pay a high price for short-term gain.
"Would we like to help ourselves here for the last stretch? Absolutely," Treliving told reporters Saturday.
"To me, it still comes down to what's the cost? We are not going to start putting 'A' assets into play here, young players, top young prospects, first-round picks for something that may just help us for the next four to six weeks."
Calgary is a fast, relentless team, but not particularly big and muscular. The Flames are in the market for a defenceman that contributes those qualities to their back end.
Head coach Bob Hartley admits the trade deadline will be a distraction on this trip.
"It's going to play on some players' minds. Some handle it better than others," he said. "There's going to be plenty of speculation and rumours and friends calling.
"This is where you need to be able to park the distractions and focus on your job."
Jonas Hiller took a 6-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, so Hartley intends to give Karri Ramo the start Tuesday in New York.
Joni Ortio, who was stellar in a January call-up, suffered a high ankle sprain playing for the Adirondack Flames and will be out for six to eight weeks, according to Treliving.
Calgary also returned forward Sam Bennett to the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs on the weekend. The fourth overall pick in last year's NHL draft had shoulder surgery Oct. 16.
Bennett began skating with the Flames again this month wearing a non-contact yellow jersey. He's not eligible to play in the American Hockey League because he's 18 and played in the CHL.
"Obviously it's not my first choice, but they thought long and hard about this," Bennett said. "I respect the decision. I'm excited to finally get a chance to play again, wherever that is."