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Flames playing best hockey of season despite growing trade deadline noise


CALGARY — We interrupt trade deadline coverage with breaking news out of Calgary:

The Flames aren’t dead yet.

Despite widespread belief that the five-point deficit is too big, and impending trade losses will cut too deep, the Flames continue to play the best hockey they’ve played all season long.

A 4-2 win over Los Angeles Tuesday marked their fourth straight win over a playoff team, putting them five back of the Kings and red-hot Nashville, leapfrogging them past Minnesota and St. Louis to sit third in the wild-card race.

“We’re never giving up,” said Andrew Mangiapane, who marked his 400th NHL game with a world-class finish that saw him undress Kings netminder Cam Talbot.

“We’re not part of the playoff picture right now but the way we’re playing we want to keep playing like this and kind of crawl back in and be one of those sleeper teams that everyone kind of counts us out.

“We’ve been playing an underdog role the whole season, so we’ve just got to focus on the next one, keep playing as a group and keep playing as a five-man unit.”

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The touchstone for this bunch has become exactly that, playing like a pack of hyenas who count on contributions from everyone to have success.

It’s allowed this club to piece together three separate four-game winning binges, only to see them falter for similar stretches.

But as games around the NHL ramp up towards big-boy hockey, it’s an encouraging sign that a young team with this much speculation swirling around it has managed to cobble together newfound swagger.

Even they’ll tell you they’re at a confidence level they had yet to reach previously this season.

“Probably,” said coach Ryan Huska when asked if this has been his team’s best stretch in a roller coaster campaign.

“We’re doing things the right way. It’s more sustainable and it’s a pretty solid team game. It’s not just one guy or one line contributing.

“It’s a team game. We’ve played with pace, we’ve played hard and we’ve executed, which has allowed us to have success.”

Goaltending continues to be the backbone of this bunch, with Jacob Markstrom winning his seventh game in his last nine starts by making several of his 21 saves early in the third period of a 2-2 game.

Tuesday’s hero was a lad who hadn’t called his number much of late.

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With eight minutes left Yegor Sharangovich snapped out of an 11-game goalless streak with a wrister over Talbot’s glove that atoned for a weak back check earlier that allowed Kevin Fiala to tie it late in the second.

“It’s nice for him to get it back,” said Huska, who knew there’d be growing pains when he tasked the Belarussian winger with filling Elias Lindholm’s shoes on the top line.

“He’s done a good job for us since we’ve asked him to play in the middle of the ice. He’s been responsible defensively and that line is developing a little bit of chemistry, namely between him and Jonathan (Huberdeau).

“To see him score tonight was a big moment for our team for sure, but I know it will allow him to sleep a little better tonight.”

With the possible exception of pending trade pieces Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin, everyone will sleep better Tuesday, as they beat yet another team ahead of them in the standings.

Once again the team’s two big trade chips played a huge role in the proceedings, with Hanifin making a world-class pass to spring Mangiapane for his goal, and Tanev adding two assists, including one on Blake Coleman’s go-ahead goal late in the second and another on Mikael Backlund’s empty netter.

They were both a game-high plus-three.

Pros, right until the end.

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Surely both Hanifin and Tanev will stay on the roster until at least Saturday when a visit from Pittsburgh will be preceded by the swanky retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff’s No. 34 jersey.

The legendary netminder arrived from Finland with family and friends Monday and met several players at practice Tuesday.

None were more excited than Markstrom.

“That’s a goalie when I was old enough to stay up late and watch NHL hockey he was one of them I enjoyed watching,” said the veteran Swede.

“Obviously unbelievable goalie. Well-deserved going up in the rafters.”

After that the Flames have one more home game Monday before having to decide whether to take the two defensive partners to Florida for one last game before the deadline.

A potential six-game winning streak by then would surely make their departure even more excruciating for a GM who still knows it’s the only option he has.

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