Tuesday was a recovery day for the Calgary Flames and nobody needed it more than T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell. The trio of Calgary defencemen have been playing massive minutes since a season-ending injury to Mark Giordano, and the last thing the Flames need to do is burn them out down the stretch, when every game feels as if it's the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
The Flames' unexpected post-season push means there are five Canadian teams still in contention for playoff spots, when most of the pre-season forecasts suggested only the Montreal Canadiens were sure bets to play meaningful hockey after mid-April.
Calgary's run is different from the one the Ottawa Senators are putting together at the moment. The Flames haven't caught lightning in a bottle and gone on a magnificent late-season run. They've done it with relentless consistency, relying on whichever goaltender happens to be running hot at the time, on a No. 1 line that features the top scorer in March, Jiri Hudler, plus that depleted defence corps that's being asked to overcome Giordano's absence.
The Flames want to add defensive depth, one reason why they signed college free-agent Kenney Morrison to a contract last week. At 23 and coming out of the same Western Michigan school that sent Danny DeKeyser directly to the NHL, Morrison had to know there's a real opportunity to crack that Flames' lineup, perhaps as soon as next year.
In the meantime, Calgary coach Bob Hartley continues to preach his relentless brand of positivity. The Flames remain just a nose ahead of the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division standings – two points up heading into Tuesday night's action, with the Kings burning their game in hand by playing the Rangers in New York.
Calgary stayed those two points up on L.A. by defeating Colorado at home Monday night. That was a tough blow for the Central Division Avs: As Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said about the challenging Western Conference playoff race prior to the match, their division is the only one in which all seven teams had a winning record.
You can argue all day about the merits of excluding overtime and shootout losses from Roy's calculations about what constitutes .500, but there is no disputing his point – Colorado faces a harder road to the playoffs because the top three teams in each division automatically qualify for the post-season under the current playoff formula, along with two wild cards.
Chances are, the Central will – for the second year in a row – qualify five teams, which means that the Avalanche and sixth-place Dallas Stars are really trying to overhaul the teams directly ahead of them in the division, the Minnesota Wild and the Winnipeg Jets. After its loss to Calgary, Colorado is 10 points back with 10 games to go, realistically too large a gap to bridge in the short time remaining.
Calgary, meanwhile, has to keep its focus on the team in front of it, Vancouver, and the team behind it, Los Angeles. The Kings went into New Jersey on Monday and obliterated the Devils for just their 13th win in 34 road starts. Only the Arizona Coyotes (11) and the Edmonton Oilers (eight) had fewer road victories, and the Kings have just three home games remaining on their schedule.
You can be sure that any team with serious Stanley Cup aspirations will be a fan of the Flames during this stretch drive. L.A. has a well-earned reputation for kicking into a higher gear once the playoffs start, so if the Flames can somehow keep the Kings on the outside looking in, that eliminates one tough contender before the post-season even begins.
Los Angeles visits Calgary for the next-to-last game of the regular season. More and more, it is looking as if that game, No. 1,211 in the overall schedule, will ultimately determine which team lands that third spot in the Pacific, and a chance to play the Canucks in Round 1.
"With 10 games to go, we're not going to change the way we've done business since Day 1," said Hartley. "We remain consistent. We understand the importance of every game. But at the same time, it's all about us."
So Hartley will keep needing those big minutes from his top three on defence, and keep repeating the mantra – all about us, day by day, shift by shift. As long as Calgary is still there, alive in the race, you never know the outcome. You just never know.