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Flames face another tough test in rematch against Panthers

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With just seven regulation losses this season, their entire team scoring at will and riding a four-game winning streak in Calgary, the Florida Panthers are a terrifying opponent.

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The Calgary Flames know it.

But from their perspective, there’s no better way to prove they’re not the same team that headed to South Florida ready to hit the beach instead of being ready to win a hockey game – and that they are still part of the National Hockey League’s elite – than a game like this.

“We know they’re a fast team, they score a lot. I think in the last two games they’ve scored 15 or 16 goals in two games,” Flames defender Chris Tanev said, chatting with the media via Zoom on Monday.”We know their firepower, we know they’re a very strong offensive team with a lot of talented players, so we have to be connected defensively and play with the puck. We can’t let them dictate the Game.

“We have to go to them and play in their end, instead of playing in our end.”

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That’s exactly what happened in last week’s 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, and also what happened in the latter stages of the Flames’ 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Panthers two weeks ago.

They trailed, especially in the first and second periods, before the game really opened up with Ryan Lomberg’s goal late in the second quarter. The Panthers, so dominant at home, would prove they were the better of two teams that night.

Sledding has been tough for the Flames ever since. For some reason, this triggered a downfall of bad habits, defensive struggles, and letting go of their check-first mentality. Adding to their list of issues is the fact that their secondary score has become anemic, something worth watching as the team nears the trade deadline.

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The Panthers, meanwhile, look like serious contenders and especially on the weekend with convincing victories over Dallas (7-1) and Columbus (9-2).

The Flames desperately need a rebounding performance and something to feel good about. A win against a club like the Panthers could do just that.

“It’s going to be a big game for us — a tough team to play, a really good team,” Flames center Mikael Backlund said. “They will be a good test for us. You know, if we beat a team like Florida, it’s going to give us a lot of momentum and confidence and it’s going to give us a lot of energy.

“So I think it’s a good game for us to play next.”

Players reflect on what went wrong for a few days now; that’s the downside of the Flames’ erratic schedule due to postponement of home games tied to attendance capacity restrictions in Alberta. They skated on Friday, had the day off per the NHL collective agreement on Saturday, and skated again the final two days.

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It has nothing to do with the real thing, however, and between Tuesday’s game and Saturday’s Battle of Alberta, it’s the start of a busy streak for the group.

Erik Gudbranson of the Calgary Flames takes on Ryan Lomberg of the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida on January 4, 2022.
Erik Gudbranson of the Calgary Flames takes on Ryan Lomberg of the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Florida on January 4, 2022. Photo by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

According to defender Erik Gudbranson, they tried to make the most of their training times.

“Our coaching staff have done a good job creating game situations for us in training over the past few days and between games,” he said. “That’s the big problem. It’s so hard to recreate what really happens in the middle of the game when a guy tries to blow your head off or steal the puck from you with everything he’s got.

“But we try to create that in practice.”

Flames head coach Darryl Sutter highlighted his team’s lack of emotion and pointed to some specific areas of concern – the performance of their centers when Elias Lindholm was under time, as well as two defensive pairs : Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, and Nikita Zadorov and Gudbranson.

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Although not included in Sutter’s message, Tanev promised a more aggressive approach in Tuesday’s game and an overall improvement from everyone.

No matter their opponent.

“It doesn’t matter who we play against, we have to be better than we have been,” he said. “We all know that here. If we are not, it will be a long game tomorrow. We have to prepare and be ready to face one of the best teams in the league and we have to work hard, a lot of second efforts.

“That doesn’t mean not making games – we have to make games and bring the game to them and play in their end, instead of ours.”

Contrary to what they have shown recently, they still know how to do that.

And, according to Gudbranson, they still have confidence and, just like the Panthers, can be a dominant opponent in their own right.

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“We’re a good hockey team,” he said. “We are not exploiting our potential at the moment, but we know that the teams are taking us very seriously at the moment. The last (opponents) took us almost more seriously than we did, and we must hold ourselves to this standard. We were not satisfied in this room. It hasn’t necessarily been fun and the games like that were… we have to go out tomorrow with a big effort.

“The most exciting part of this week is that we have the opportunity to play, arguably, the best team in the NHL and challenge ourselves after a week of practice, so we’re thrilled for that.”

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