‘We’re never giving up’: Belief building for Flames during win spree

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There might only be 20-some dudes in the city that really, truly believe the Calgary Flames are capable of scoring a playoff invite.

And two … or more … of them will be traded away next week.

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This crew has long since been counted out, and they know it. They don’t even seem to mind it.

Thing is, with Tuesday’s 4-2 doubling of the Los Angeles Kings at the Saddledome, the Flames have strung together four straight victories, with each and every one of those Ws against a team that currently sits in a post-season position.

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As forward Blake Coleman declared during a post-game interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan: “We’re finally really starting to believe that we can do something special.”

You might think otherwise.

Most do.

But inside the Flames’ locker-room, there’s a genuine — and growing — feeling of why-not-us?

“We’re playing really good hockey right now,” said starting netminder Jacob Markstrom.

Indeed, they are.

Jacob Markstrom
Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom makes a save against the Los Angeles Kings at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

The Flames have made quite a statement over the past week and a bit, beating the Winnipeg Jets and then the Boston Bruins and the arch-rival Edmonton Oilers and the Kings. What do those four clubs have in common? They’ve all, at some juncture in 2023-24, been described as contenders.  

With Tuesday’s triumph, the Flames are now just five points out of both wildcard spots in the Western Conference, currently occupied by the Kings and Nashville Predators.

“We’re never giving up,” said Andrew Mangiapane, who scored a breakaway beauty in his milestone 400th NHL game. “Obviously, we’re out of the playoff picture right now. But the way we’re playing, we want to keep playing like this and crawl back in and be one of those sleeper teams that everyone kind of counts us out. We have been playing the underdog role, I’ve felt, for the whole season.”

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That isn’t about to change.

The pessimists will insist that this recent surge is a product of fortunate scheduling, pointing out that the Bruins, Oilers and Kings were all on the second half of a back-to-back set.

The pessimists will remind that the Flames have been a streaky bunch all season, also prone to extended losing skids.

The pessimists will predict an immediate plummet once Noah Hanifin, Chris Tanev and maybe Markstrom are moved out. Both on expiring contracts, it’s an inevitability that Hanifin and Tanev will be traded prior to the March 8 deadline, which means these defence partners will play a maximum of three more games with this team. Markstrom is signed for two more seasons, so he’s more likely to stay put, but his name is floating around in the rumour mill.

Tanev notched a pair of assists Tuesday, while Hanifin sprung Mangiapane for his breakaway. Markstrom was sharp in a 20-save showing and talked post-game about how cool it was to meet Miikka Kiprusoff at morning skate. (Kiprusoff, of course, is in town for Saturday’s jersey retirement ceremony.)

And maybe the pessimists will prove to be right. That’s still the popular side to be on.

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Calgary Flames vs. Los Angeles Kings
Calgary Flames forward Nazem Kadri battles Los Angeles Kings defenceman Jordan Spence at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

“We have to keep stringing wins together,” said Flames coach Ryan Huska, whose squad now sits at 29-25-5. “One of the issues that we’ve had is a bit of the consistency the other way, where we’ve had a few losing streaks, as well. But I really like the way we’re playing now, because I feel like it’s more sustainable and it’s a pretty solid team game.

“It’s not just one line carrying you or it’s not one player that you’re relying on. It’s more of a joint effort, I guess you could say.”

“Nobody is doing it individually,” Mangiapane echoed. “Everybody has a job, an important role. It takes everyone to win, for our team. And that’s what we’re doing right now — we’re all playing together, we’re playing close and we’re doing it for each other.”

Can they keep this up, even after a couple of significant subtractions?

Most doubt it.

Twenty-some dudes will do their darnedest to prove the pessimists wrong.

“There’s a lot of belief, and I think that comes from guys feeling good about their games and where they’re at,” said Coleman, who batted a rebound out of the air Tuesday for his team-high 24th goal of the campaign, during his interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “We’re very aware of our situation. We know we can’t afford to drop many games here. Obviously, it’s good that we’re able to string some together, but there are a lot of teams playing good hockey in this race and we’re going to have to beat the guys in front of us to make a difference.”

Like they did Tuesday against the Kings, with Yegor Sharangovich ripping the tiebreaking tally with eight minutes remaining and Mikael Backlund adding a late empty-netter after a Tanev shot block.

“If you want to have a chance to go to the playoffs … You know, we’re chasing teams so we have to go on a run like this,” Markstrom said. “We just can’t win four and lose four. We have to keep going.”

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Yegor Sharangovich
Calgary Flames forward Yegor Sharangovich celebrates his goal against the Los Angeles Kings at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

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