Generally, the professional hockey player as cheerleader is an uncommon sight, except at this time of year, and only for the most desperate of NHL teams.
Put the Calgary Flames in that category.
After going on the road and sweeping a pair of also-rans, the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche, the Flames retain a small mathematical chance of earning the final playoff spot, much of it having to do with how the Chicago Blackhawks fare.
Chicago is in Montreal on Tuesday, so the Flames will be on their couches, channelling the ghosts of Guy Lafleur and Ken Dryden and hoping against hope that the Habs knock off the Blackhawks and, in the meantime, wear them out so badly that the Chicagoans falter again at home Wednesday versus the St. Louis Blues.
If the Blackhawks get swept in their next two games and the Flames defeat the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday, they could inch ahead of Chicago in the race for eighth in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks are the most vulnerable of the teams they are chasing, given that the defending Stanley Cup champions also finish with a home-and-home against a Detroit Red Wings team that is trying to hold off the San Jose Sharks in the quest for second overall in the conference standings.
The problem is this:
Chicago can't earn more than two points in its final four games, or Calgary loses out. The Flames can only get to 95 points in the standings and they must be at 95 alone to make the playoffs, since every single one of their primary challengers holds the tiebreaker edge (which this year, is most regulation and overtime wins).
Their nine shootout victories have kept the Flames alive this long, but they will prove to be their undoing if they should end up in a tie with any of the Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators, the Anaheim Ducks or the Dallas Stars in the standings.
So it's a tall order, but if straw-clutching is the only alternative, then straw-clutching is what it'll have to be.
"We have to find ways to get points right now," left winger Alex Tanguay said after Sunday's win. "It doesn't matter how we get them."
No, it doesn't. The Flames stayed alive with two not-so-pretty victories on the road. Against the Blues Friday night, they relied on a stirring three-point performance from team captain Jarome Iginla to record a come-from-behind victory.
Iginla's three gave him 1,000 for his NHL career, the 77th player in history to achieve the milestone.
Sometimes the presence of a looming milestone causes paralysis on the ice; more than one future hall-of-famer has stalled just as his pursuit of a significant statistical number comes within reach. But Iginla, presumably realizing the gravity of these games, just blew right through it, scoring the winner against the Blues and then adding point No. 1,001 in the Colorado victory, setting up Tanguay for the game winner, on a night when goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff stole the show.
Tanguay came back to haunt his former team in that victory, as Colorado has slowly become more competitive again of late.
That matters only because after winning five of six from the Avalanche, the Flames are suddenly big Colorado fans. It's because Dallas, which currently sits 10th in the conference, plays Colorado twice this week, along with games against the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets (2-5-3 in their last 10) and the Minnesota Wild (2-7-1 in their last 10).
For the Flames, the most disheartening scenario of all would be if they get the help they need in the battle against Chicago, only to see Dallas come from off the pace and leapfrog them (which could happen if the Stars win three out of their final four).
So it's popcorn in front of the TV for the Flames players who dare to watch Montreal-Chicago on Tuesday night, and a peek at the highlights later in the night for those who don't. The Flames took Monday off - recovery isn't an issue these days, not with their schedule so light - and will resume practice today, calculators in one hand, pompoms in the other, hoping for the best and content to focus on the little that they can control themselves.Report Typo/Error