SPORTS

Without their captain, Calgary Flames refusing to fade in push for post-season

03/10/2015 06:14 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - A few days ago, it was daisies. Now Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley says his team is as fresh as roses.

Whatever blossom Hartley chooses next, he might consider a pesticide-resistant weed.

A seven-game road trip, minus their captain and best player for most of it, is often enough to end the playoff aspirations of an NHL team on the bubble.

Calgary (36-25-5) came home feeling good about itself and its post-season chances, especially after how it ended its swing through the Eastern Conference.

Down 4-0 against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, the Flames scored four unanswered goals to salvage a shootout point — their ninth out of a possible 14 on that trek.

"It seems like the whole season we have this drive," Flames leading scorer Jiri Hudler said Tuesday. "We're not giving up, even if we're down a couple of goals, like we did in Ottawa the other night."

The Flames are tied with the Los Angeles Kings for third in the Pacific Division— but currently own the tiebreaker— and three points ahead of the San Jose Sharks.

Calgary has won 10 games this season when trailing after two periods. That ties the Flames for the NHL lead with Anaheim, which visits the Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday.

Karri Ramo gets the start in goal for Calgary.

Add in overtime and shootout losses and Calgary has generated 23 of their 77 points going into the third without a lead.

While Sunday's comeback resulted in one point and not two, it indicated the Flames weren't dispirited after losing captain Mark Giordano to a season-ending bicep injury late in the second game of their road trip.

"On the bench, when we scored that first goal I said to myself 'Here we go again,' " Hartley said. "They were coming back to the bench and yelling and laughing and that's who we are."

Giordano returned to Calgary to undergo surgery. He was the NHL's top-scoring defenceman when he got hurt.

"We lost Gio, our best player and our captain who is a huge part of our team," forward Johnny Gaudreau acknowledged. "It was a great comeback the other night and it just shows that whoever is in the lineup we can produce offensively and we can win games."

The number of points it will take for Calgary to make the playoffs after a five-year absence is a moving target. A ballpark figure is the club having to win 10 or 11 of its remaining 16, nine of which are at home.

"I try to gauge them every day," Hartley said of his players. "I don't feel one ounce of nervousness. (I feel like I'm) taking a bunch of kids to the circus every day.

"They're having fun, they're on the job, they're applying themselves. They're certainly fun to be around."

Hudler was named the NHL's first star of the week for a four-goal, four-assist effort in a 3-0-1 span for Calgary.

The 31-year-old Czech plays the right wing on the top line with 20-year-old centre Sean Monahan and 21-year-old Gaudreau on the left side.

"First couple of teammates I can yell at after every shift, so that's nice, and they don't say nothing back," Hudler quipped.

The NHL's leading shotblocker was given a day off Tuesday. With 226 blocked shots, defenceman Kris Russell was well ahead of Nashville's Roman Josi at 181.

Hartley said Russell and forward Josh Jooris, also not on the ice, will play Wednesday. Centre Drew Shore was "banged up" and isn't expected to be in the lineup.

Forward Paul Byron, whose malady was described as "a whole body injury" by Hartley, is closer to returning as he's skating again. Defenceman Ladislav Smid, who has played just three games since Dec. 12 because of an upper-body injury, isn't close.

Calgary hosts Toronto on Friday, then heads to Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.

"These games are fun. It's like playoff games for us," Hudler said. "We're trying to get in (the playoffs) like everybody else. It seems like a special time of the year down the stretch.

"Every game matters. You play your game then you run on the road to your phone or here to your TV and you look at how other teams are playing."

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