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Calgary Flames enter ‘make-or-break’ stage of marathon road-trip

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WASHINGTON — For their prized trade acquisitions, they ensured it was a happy homecoming.

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With a team feast planned for American Thanksgiving, they were intending on a happy holiday.

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Now, as they wrap their longest road-trip of the season with back-to-back matinees, the Calgary Flames are determined to author a happy ending.

The Flames have so far collected five of a possible eight points on this gruelling six-game getaway. If they can boost that total to eight or nine, it would be considered a very successful sojourn.

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“I think it’s a good trip so far … ” said Flames defenceman MacKenzie Weegar. “But I don’t think it’s a great trip, by any means.”

Not yet.

But it could be.

“Absolutely, if we win the next two games, it is a great trip,” Weegar nodded. “Washington and Carolina are two tough teams, both playoff teams. It’s not going to be easy, but I think we have the group in here to do it.”

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It’s historically been a good omen to be in a post-season perch at U.S. Thanksgiving, and the Flames woke up Thursday in the first wildcard slot in the NHL’s Western Conference with a 9-7-3 mark.

As they hit the ice for an upbeat and up-tempo turkey day practice in D.C., they were feeling particularly thankful for backup netminder Dan Vladar, who swiped a point with a 38-save show-off in Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Obviously, we’d like to have a better game in front of our goalie tomorrow,” said Flames forward Blake Coleman, looking ahead to a Black Friday faceoff with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (Noon MT, Sportsnet/Sportsnet 960 The Fan). “But on the road, sometimes you have to find a way to grease out points and so far we’ve been able to do that a little bit.”

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The Flames started their travels with a loss in Tampa but rebounded for an emotional shootout triumph in Florida, a special affair for Weegar and Jonathan Huberdeau as they faced their old team for the first time.

They bagged another two points in Philly, then snagged a single in the Steel City.

Washington and Carolina — site of Saturday’s showdown with the Hurricanes — are the two remaining stops on this extended jaunt, which will ultimately span 11 nights in hotel beds and close to 10,000 km in the air.

There have been plenty of positives along the way.

“I think, to some degree, we’ve settled into some lines that we can work with and get familiar with,” said Coleman, who has been skating alongside Mikael Backlund and Huberdeau. “Our goaltending has been good. We still need to limit some chances against, high-danger especially, and maybe special teams can improve, but I think there have been a lot of stepping-stones. It’s going the right direction here, and these next two games are going to make-or-break our road-trip.”

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Indeed, five of a possible eight points is a nice start.

However, five out a dozen won’t do.

“We’re in a good spot to have a successful road-trip, but the last two games are going to be key to make sure that happens,” stressed Flames defence call-up Dennis Gilbert.

“Play hard, play the right way and we should get the result that we want,” added alternate captain Chris Tanev, no worse for wear after several gutsy blocks against the Penguins. “But it’s that mentality that we need to have. We need to play like we did in the second and parts of the third (in Pittsburgh), where we pushed the play and were aggressive and we were up on their players.”

While they seem to be trending upward, Weegar believes they’re capable of more.

“I think we’re all kind of waiting on something great to happen,” he said after Thursday’s practice at Capital One Arena in Washington. “As a team, I think it’s now to take one more step forward and really push to be great, rather than being complacent with being good.

“We’re getting points, which is a big thing. But in here, we all know the expectations are a little higher.”

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