-- Two months ago, it wasn't hard to imagine the Calgary Flames
in the midst of a fire sale by the time the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic arrived.
When the Flames woke up Dec. 22, they were 14-18-3 and showing no signs of being anything more than an afterthought in the playoff chase. They were nine points out of eighth place in the Western Conference and just two points ahead of the last-place Edmonton Oilers
There was even speculation that captain Jarome Iginla
could be traded to a contender.
Fast forward to today, and Iginla is a member of a contender -- the Calgary Flames
The Flames are 15-4-5 in their past 24 games and have climbed into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
With a win Wednesday night against the Dallas Stars
at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames could be in a five-way tie for fourth in the West with 68 points, although they will have played more games than every team in the conference.
So what has turned a team that looked lifeless and disjointed two months ago into one of the League's best during the past two months?
"I think it's a lot of things," Iginla said. "We're a lot more confident as a team. Right through our lineup, we feel like every line can go out and contribute. If it's not that line, it's another line. We've been getting scoring all the way through. Our work ethic and consistency have been better. Our coaching staff has also helped us keep our focus and been very positive. I think it's just all of it. As a team, we want to keep that going. Guys are feeling good, and that's a good thing."
There were plenty of smiles and hearty laughs to be heard during the team's brisk practice Wednesday morning, something that's far more commonplace when a team is relaxed and rolling.
"It goes with just winning and obviously our last game we scored a bunch of goals," said Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester
, who was a plus-4 in the Flames' 9-1 victory Monday against the Avalanche. "When things go right like that, everyone's in a good mood."
The Flames have used a lethal offense during this 24-game stretch to rise into playoff contention. They've scored 82 goals during the hot streak, good for an average of 3.4 per game. Iginla has been one of the leaders with 11 goals and 13 assists during that span.
But as Iginla mentioned, the contributions have been coming from everywhere.
has 5 goals and 19 assists since Dec. 23 after posting a mere 7 goals and 10 assists in his first 32 games.
Forward Curtis Glencross
, who had never scored more than 15 goals in a season, has 19 in 56 games. In his past 24 games, he has 12 goals and 6 assists and is in the midst of a five-game goal-scoring streak.
"Those bounces that didn't go in for you earlier in the year are starting to go in for myself now," said Glencross, who has combined with Jokinen and David Moss
to form Calgary's hottest line of late. "I was hitting a lot of goal posts and missing quite a few prime opportunities early on and it seems like I'm making up for it now."
All that winning has bred confidence, and that confidence has led to the consistency that's required for a team to have success.
"Earlier in the year, it seemed like we couldn't get over that hump," Bouwmeester said. "We'd play a real good game or two good games, then really bad for one. There was just no real consistency. That's the one thing. I don't know if we've been focusing more on the short-term and a one-game-at-a-time sort of thing, there has been a bit more of a consistent effort."
"When you have confidence, it's a big part of it no matter who you are in the game. When you have confidence, everything is a bit easier," Iginla said. "I think as a group we definitely have that. It's great. You're in a tight game and you feel like, 'OK, our line wants to go do it.' Every line feels like, 'Our line wants to go do it.' That helps all of us as a good. It's a fun place to be."
The Flames have come a long way to reach the point where their locker room exudes confidence, their play is consistent and the guys are having fun. By focusing on one game at a time, the last thing they're doing on Wednesday is looking ahead to Sunday's outdoor game at McMahon Stadium against the Montreal Canadiens
"Obviously there's a lot of hype around it," said David Moss
, who had a goal and 3 assists in Monday's win. "Everyone's talking about it. But we're focused on tonight. After tonight, we'll move on."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo