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Calgary Flames closing out a season chock full of nailbiting games

CALGARY - Does playing 49 games decided by a single goal this season mean the Calgary Flames' rebuild will be quick?

There's been both fun and frustration winning 25 and losing 24 of them, but what the tight games have done is bought goodwill and patience from the Flames' fan base.

Calgary (35-38-7) will finish out of the playoffs for a fifth straight season when their campaign concludes Sunday in Vancouver. With two games remaining, the Flames can finish no higher than 24th in the 30-team league.

Calgary hosts the Winnipeg Jets on Friday in what will be their home finale and the last game of the season for the Jets, who will also have an early summer.

The Flames compensated for their lack of talent this season with tenacity, which contributed to so many narrow scores. It also generated hope for the future, which is a necessary ingredient for any professional sports franchise out of the post-season.

"I've been in hockey for a long time. I got only one standing ovation," Flames head coach Bob Hartley said Thursday. "I saw my team get a standing ovation here this year after a loss. That's probably a first in hockey history and it shows . . . the passion that our fans have for our hockey club.

"I understand that they're showing patience. They see guys never give up, guys block shots, go to the wall and they respect that. We established a blue-collar attitude over here and this is the first step of being successful."

The NHL doesn't keep this statistic, but according to the Elias Sports Bureau 49 one-goal games has ties a league record set in 2010-11 by the Florida Panthers. The shootout introduced in 2005-06 increased the likelihood of games decided by a goal.

The Flames were 14-7 in games that went beyond regulation.

"We've gained a lot of experience playing tight games," captain Mark Giordano said. "I can't remember too many games this year that come the third period that the game is decided. It's been pretty cool.

"We know we can compete with everyone, but it's a fine line because at some point, you have to start winning those to get into the playoffs.

"You can look at both sides of it and the next step for us is we want to win some games next year that are more comfortable wins."

Calgary has been in next-year territory for some time now, so they're a loose team not burdened by expectations or conserving anything for more important games later.

The Flames have won four in a row, seven of their last 10 and helped spoil the playoff aspirations of the New Jersey Devils on a recent road trip.

Calgary goaltender Karri Ramo is hitting his stride after sitting out 15 games with a knee injury in February and March.

The Flames squandered a three-goal lead Wednesday, but with help from Ramo's 41 saves, held on for a 4-3 shootout victory against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Kings.

"It's a good way to throw the young guys into the fire," forward Joe Colborne said. "When there's a close game going on, every mistake gets magnified, so you definitely have to learn quickly you need to minimize those mistakes, especially as the game gets closer and closer.

"We have a hard-working team. We're not the most skilled team in the league for sure right now, but we've proven we'll go up against anyone."

The Jets are the third-closest Canadian team to the Flames geographically, but are in Calgary just once during the season because of the NHL's current divisional alignments.

So there's novelty in Friday's windup at Scotiabank Saddledome. For those old enough to remember, it conjures memories of their Smythe Division rivalries of the 1980s.

"Tomorrow is going to be an easy game to get up for," Giordano said. "We want to put on a good show. It's the last one of the year for them. Those Winnipeg games, there always seems to be a lot of energy in the building.

"It will be a cool game for sure. It's been great in here lately. We've been cheered off the ice in some losses. It's funny how the games goes. Different organization are different stages. Because of that, there's different expectations."

Calgary currently sits in the bottom five teams in the NHL, but their recent hot streak decreases the odds of getting the first overall pick in next Tuesday's NHL draft lottery.

"There's no way you're going to come in here looking to lose a game," Giordano said. "Hopefully the last two, we can get two wins and go home feeling great."

The Flames also own the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders. Stampeders head coach and general manager John Hufnagel watched hockey practice Thursday and talked "coaching philosophies" with Hartley.

"I did the same thing with (Broncos coach) Mike Shanahan in Colorado," Hartley said. "We like to sit around and compare our methods of work and see how we motivate guys for 16 games versus 82 games.

"There's definitely similarities between the two jobs, but because of the schedule and the numbers of players those guys have, there is still a world of difference."

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