The Calgary Flames are facing a steep climb to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Sure, with 20 games remaining, the Flames are only two points back of the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens in the North Division as they head into Monday’s home clash with the Winnipeg Jets. However, the Canadiens have five games in hand, having played only 31 games compared with the Jets’ 36.
Therefore, the inconsistent Flames must repeat several more times their feat of Saturday night’s 4-2 win over the Jets, which snapped a season-worst four-game losing skid. A winning streak would help.
“We’re fighting for our season,” forward Johnny Gaudreau said after Saturday’s victory. “Every game’s important. We can’t afford to lose any games. We take it one game at a time, but looking at the standings, we can’t afford to lose. It’s nice to get a win.”
Gaudreau had been publicly called out by coach Darryl Sutter after the Flames dropped a 3-2 decision to the Jets one night earlier, and he responded with a much-improved performance that went far beyond the single assist he collected in his 500th career regular-season game.
“His pace was better and, quite honestly, it was the best game he’s played since I joined the team,” Sutter said. “He’s an elite-level player in this league, so he has to try and have his best game every game for us.”
Gaudreau didn’t appear too concerned about Sutter’s comments about his lack of energy in Friday’s loss.
“I’m an offensive guy and sometimes the numbers aren’t there and that looks bad on me,” Gaudreau said. “But I try to do the right things and I think I’ve been getting better at that in my years in Calgary.”
Winnipeg had a three-game winning streak snapped and lost a chance to keep pace with the Toronto Maple Leafs atop the North Division, but the Jets and their coach weren’t fretting over the defeat that came after they erased a 2-0 deficit.
“I didn’t mind our game,” said coach Paul Maurice, who gave his team a day off Sunday. “You know they’re going to come with a really heavy push and I think they did, but I thought we handled it really well. Couple of unusual bounces in the third and that’s it.”
While the Flames responded from Friday’s loss with a strong performance Saturday, the Jets expect the same of themselves in the rubber match of this three-game series Monday. Winnipeg has won four of the seven clashes so far this season.
“They were a desperate team. They came out fast,” forward Adam Lowry said. “They did a good job of not allowing too much space between their defense and forwards. Good gap. They played real tight, kind of as a five-man unit in their own end. They made it tough for us to get to the front of the net.”
Not all the news was bad for the Jets on Saturday, which helps in the loss. Rookie defenceman Logan Stanley scored his first career goal.
“It’s a pretty good feeling to get that one. Something you dream of as a kid, playing your first NHL game and scoring your first NHL goal,” said Stanley, the 2016 first-round draft choice. “I would have liked a better result for the team, but we’ll come back Monday with another good game.”