Flames looking to bring road prowess back home to Calgary for stretch run

The Canadian Press

Milan Lucic joked the Flames might want to stay in a hotel before their next game in Calgary.

If it helps them duplicate large parts of the team's most recent road trip, the idea might be worth a shot.

The Flames picked up seven of a possible 10 points during a stretch a five outings in eight days away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, capping things with Sunday's resounding 3-0 shutout of the Florida Panthers.

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And had it not been for a last-gasp equalizer by the Nashville Predators, Calgary could have come away from their longest and most difficult spell away from home in 2019-20 with even more as the club continues to battle for a Western Conference playoff berth.

"When we put our game on the ice the way we can play it, we can play with anybody," Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward said following the victory in Sunrise, Fla. "We saw that over the course of the road trip."

Calgary opened with a 4-2 victory over the lowly Detroit Red Wings before picking up an impressive 5-2 decision in Boston against the NHL-leading Bruins. The Flames lost 4-3 in overtime at Nashville after that buzzer-beater to force extra time and were outplayed in a 4-3 setback to the Tampa Bay Lightning — the team with the third-best record in the league — on Saturday before regrouping with that solid effort against the Panthers.

"Really good road trip," Flames captain Mark Giordano said. "If we would have looked at this one at the start of the year and said we'll go 3-1-1 with the quality of opponents, we would have taken that."

Now the focus shifts to getting similar results at home.

Calgary owns the NHL's fourth-best road record at 20-14-3 and was tied for the seventh-best points percentage (.581) with Nashville heading into Monday's action.

But home cooking has provided a stark contrast, where the Flames have the league's 29th-best record at 14-12-4 and are tied for 23rd in points percentage (.533).

Calgary averages 2.76 goals scored on the road compared to 3.10 at home. The biggest difference, however, is goals allowed — 2.78 to 3.40.

"We just have to bring our road game home," said Flames netminder Cam Talbot, who made 38 saves in Sunday's shutout. "Keep it simple. Get pucks in, get pucks out, put pucks on net and jam away."

Teams often say similar things after successful road trips. Actually doing it is the challenge.

Players' lives are more hectic at home with family and other responsibilities. The road is simple — hotel, rink, plane, repeat.

"We can't really overthink it," said Lucic, Calgary's bruising winger who picked up his seventh goal of the season against Florida. "Home or away our game needs to remain the same ... it can be tough."

The Flames open a homestand Wednesday that will see them meet five opponents either currently in a playoff spot or just on the outside looking in — the Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets.

Calgary, which finished with the second-best regular-season record in 2018-19 before getting stunned by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs last spring, currently sits third in the air-tight Pacific Division, a point back of the Edmonton Oilers for second and five adrift of Vegas for first entering Monday night's play. The Vancouver Canucks, who have lost three straight in regulation, are one off Calgary's pace in the West's first wild-card spot.

Prior to Monday night, Edmonton and Vancouver had two crucial games in hand, while like Vegas, the Flames have 15 games left on their schedule. Arizona is three points back of Calgary — just 1-5-1 in its last seven at home — with the same number of contests remaining.

"You check (the standings) every once in a while throughout the day or after games and stuff like that — see who won, who lost," said Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau, who opened the scoring against Florida. "But at the end of the day if we just worry about ourselves we're gonna have no problem getting in."

Teams look for anything to latch onto at this time of year with margins razor-thin. It could be a big hit, a blocked shot, a player battling through injury or something else that brings the locker-room closer together.

Gaudreau was the catalyst Sunday with a two-point game after learning his grandfather died Saturday.

"It sucks losing people," the 26-year-old said as he fought back emotion. "I was pretty pumped up to get that one for him."

Ward said difficult situations are often inspiring.

"It hurts," said the coach. "He led us in a lot of ways."

Calgary will now have to find a way to pull each other up at home with 11 of the team's final 15 games set for confines that have been less than friendly.

"We've matured over the month of February," Lucic said. "We've learned a lot and what it takes to win on a night-to-night basis.

"It's a challenge, but that's what the mindset has to be."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2020.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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