Flames, Wild aim to continue ascent at other’s expense

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Calgary Flames coach Glen Gulutzan has heard the notion that the NHL teams in playoff position on (American) Thanksgiving are generally the ones that make the playoffs five months later.

With two wins in a row under his belt to move his team back into a playoff position, Gulutzan likes the direction the Flames are headed even with more than half of the season to go.

Still, after winning in overtime in Montreal and getting a 4-2 home victory versus the Vancouver Canucks in their last outing, Gulutzan knows there’s little breathing room for the Flames (16-12-2) with the standings changing every day.

“You are never out of the woods in this league, the tension is always on. You lose a game and you are scared you will never win again and you win a game and you’re still scared you will never win again,” Gulutzan said in advance of the Flames’ visit to Minnesota to face the Wild on Tuesday night.

“It is a grind and you have to prepare for it … and that’s what we are going to do. We are doing the right things we just weren’t getting results and now we are getting those results.”

Perhaps the most encouraging result has been from center Sam Bennett, who is finally starting to spark some offense after an ice-cold start to the season. Bennett needed the first 18 games of the season to even register a point, but scored the game-winner with 70 seconds left versus Vancouver and now has four goals on the season.

It’s that kind of flair for the dramatic that has carried the Wild (15-11-3) back into a wild-card spot recently as well. They return to snowy and chilly Minnesota after winning the last two outings of a three-game California swing by beating the Ducks and Sharks in overtime.

Sunday night’s 4-3 victory came after the Wild built a 3-0 lead on San Jose, only to see it slip away before Nino Niederreiter’s overtime winner sealed it. Backup goalie Alex Stalock got the start in the place where his NHL career began, and had 31 saves.

While Minnesota has been running into penalty trouble recently, and it is still without left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Jared Spurgeon due to injury. Top blue-liner Ryan Suter has been picking up extra time on the ice to fill any gaps.

“Thirty minutes, 30 minutes, 30 minutes,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said, rattling off Suter’s normal time on ice during each game of the California trip. “Smart playing, even lately he’s been a little but more aggressive offensively and still getting back (on defense).”

Suter was indeed the catalyst on Oct. 18 in Calgary when these teams had their initial meeting of the season. Minnesota notched a 4-2 win with Suter netting a goal and two assists.

Tuesday’s tilt marks the start of a three-game homestand for the Wild, who are playing 10 games in 19 days prior to the league-mandated break over the Christmas holiday.