Clearly, the NHL’s Calgary Flames have decided to take a page from the Herman Edwards book, “You Play to Win the Game.”
Suddenly, without warning, Brent Sutter’s Flames have decided to pull themselves up off the mat and enter the NHL’s Western Conference race. Six straight wins will put you into a lot of races in a lot of leagues. And that’s exactly what the Flames have done for themselves, with nothing more than a change of attitude.
Several years ago, I was having dinner with NHL television analyst, and former NHL star, Garry Unger. We were talking about the mental side of hockey, and how it’s essentially the great divide between great players and teams and guys who are simply good enough to play in the NHL…but nothing more.
And he said something I’ll never forget. He said, “A winning streak is just as easy to get on as a losing streak. It’s all in your head.” Of course, we discussed this for about half-an-hour and what Unger said made a ton of sense. Basically, it was that everything is all between your ears. You simply have to figure out a way to feed positively off that. And the Flames have done it.
The Flames’ current streak began on January 21st, at Scotiabank Saddledome, against Dallas. During their six-game run, the Flames have scored 25 goals and allowed just 13. They have won two in shootouts. Henrik Karlsson began the Flames’ streak in goal, but Miikka Kiprusoff has played the last five. During the streak, Kipper has stopped 139 of the 148 shots he’s faced (.939 save percentage). Pretty impressive for a guy many Calgary fans had written off as too old (he’s 34) and too slow.
Ever since Kiprusoff led the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final v. Tampa Bay, Flames’ fans have been desperate to have him return them to the promised land. So far, no luck. And, needless to say, a six-game winning streak is nothing more than that. It’s not a playoff berth or anything larger.
And there has been another distraction in Calgary this season. What will the Flames do with Jarome Iginla. He leads the team with 47 points in 53 games, but he’s 33 years old and may be incapable of leading Calgary back from hockey’s wilderness. His annual cap hit is $7M and has two seasons remaining, after this one, on that deal. Many fans feel it’s time to deal the team’s cornerstone for youth that can be built around.
It’s the same method the Flames used in 1996 – before Iginla had played even one NHL game – when they dealt Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas for the young Edmontonian.
But all that’s on the back burner now. Heading into tonight’s four-pointer, in Calgary, against the Los Angeles Kings, the Flames are just one point out of that so-important eighth spot.
Just remember, boys, it’s all in your heads. If you want to win badly enough, you can. Every NHL player oozes talent from every pore. It’s the between-the-ears factor that separates the elite teams.
Anyone want to mention that to the Toronto Maple Leafs?