Flames’ consistency key to season’s shocking success

Matthew Tkachuk scored a goal and added an assist to lead the Calgary Flames to the win over the Ottawa Senators.

CALGARY – Reflecting on a magical season in which the Calgary Flames find themselves in rarified air, Mark Giordano was asked what he was proudest of.

"Our consistency for sure," said the 35-year-old Flames captain.

"We brought our game on most nights. We’ve been through a bunch of years where things haven’t gone the best for us and we all realize you can’t let it slip because if you do for even a week or two in this league it can really pile on."

In past years a late season tilt with the lowly Ottawa Senators might have proven to be a pitfall, as the Flames had a history of playing down to their opponents.

But on Thursday, Calgary once again managed to employ the ol’ foot to the floor approach.

A 5-1 win was their latest in a recent string of visits from also-rans chock full of AHLers.

The motivation is simple – win the division and avoid Vegas, which is not only the loop’s hottest team but one also armed with more playoff experience than a Flames club that missed last spring’s tourney.

It will force the Flames to play meaningful hockey until their battle with San Jose is resolved one way or another.

Calgary’s cushion currently sits at five points with eight games to go, after the Sharks’ loss Thursday.

They’ve arrived at this unlikely juncture by avoiding the type of losing skids this team had perfected the last handful of seasons.

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A four-game slide to open March was as bad as it got, and every player in the room took pride in the fact they felt they were actually playing good hockey through it. They’ve since bounced back to win five of their last six.

"It’s a good thing we’re in this race for the division – it’s keeping us sharp and keeping us focused and hopefully that will lead to us playing our best hockey going into the playoffs," said Giordano, who had a shorthanded goal to extend his point streak to six games on a night he passed Robyn Regehr for second-most games played as a Flame.

"It’s great. You come to the rink and the mood is great and guys are feeling good about themselves. The chirps are a lot funnier when things are going well. On the other side, you come to the rink and you’ve got to find it."

Part of their motivation stems from years of irrelevance, making many of them realize the team and the opportunity they have now has them on the verge of something every NHLer dreams of.

They don’t want to take anything for granted.

Jarome Iginla imparted that message to the team the day he had his jersey retired by the club earlier this month, and Giordano isn’t the only one reinforcing it.

"Guys like Johnny (Gaudreau) and Monny (Sean Monahan) have been in the league five or six years and they’ve seen it too, so they’re in the same boat as us older guys," said Giordano.

"They know how hard it is to get in and stay in and go deep. Your top guys are usually your young guys in this league now and I think our young guys are getting way more mature and they are starting to realize it flies by. It’s hard to realize until you go through it."

Monahan returned to the lineup with Sam Bennett Thursday after missing a few games with ailments – all part of ensuring health is monitored heading into April.

Illustrating just how deep the NHL’s second-place squad is, fourth liners Andrew Mangiapane and Garnet Hathaway scored against the Senators before Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk padded the win late in the third.

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There was no slipping on this night.

"This is a deep team – we have a lot of young guys who are stepping up," said Monahan.

"Obviously we have guys who have been around a long time and haven’t played in the playoffs and when you’re in the league this long and you’re not getting anything done and your summer starts early it’s not fun. This is a team that wants to get something done – a determined team and we’re ready to show it."

Even against the Senators, Devils and Rangers.

Good thing, too, as six of their last eight are against teams outside the playoff picture.

"I think with the group we have in our room there is a lot more communication this year than there has been in past years," said Monahan of the chatter between games to keep the team focused.

"This is a team that wants to get something done. You’ve got to prove it every night. If you have a bad night we want to bounce back quick and that’s helped us be consistent."

The emergence of youngsters like Mangiapane is symbolic of how everything is trending for the Flames this season, as he entered the year as an undersized winger few were sure could be an everyday NHLer.

Proving that point, he still has belongings in Stockton where he was summoned from on a couple occasions before becoming a fixture here the last few months.

"Yeah, I got a few things," chuckled the 22-year–old sixth-round pick whose sixth goal of the year was an NHL-level snipe from the deep slot, top shelf.

"My laptop is down there still. I don’t really use it, but … Down there, I got some shorts. Don’t really need it up here, but nicer weather is coming now. Maybe I’ll need to get (Josh) Healey to ship it up or something like that. I just kind of use my phone now."

As an NHL fixture, perhaps it’s time he got off his wallet and bought a new one.

"I could probably afford one, yeah," he laughed.

"My other one is kind of running slow, too. It’s an Acer or something like that."

Time to upgrade, as the Flames have done so well all season long.

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