Flames gain ground in the West
Should the Calgary Flames make the post-season this year, they may want to send a note of gratitude to the Anaheim Ducks.
Beginning the night four points behind Colorado for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Calgary pulled out a critical 2-1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday night.
But just as important, the Ducks gave a big assist to the Flames' post-season chances following a 5-2 victory over the Avalanche, allowing Calgary to move to within two points of Colorado.
Forwards Rene Bourque and Ales Kotalik led the way for Calgary with one goal apiece, and goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff came through with a 29-save performance.
"We're definitely in a better position now than we were on the weekend," said Bourque. "It's funny how it works, two games ago, we're six points out and four days later, we're right there within one game of tying them. We got a little help tonight and we're going to continue to need it."
The victory sets up a gigantic West clash when the Flames (39-29-9, 87 points) travel to Denver to face the Avalanche (41-28-7, 89 points) Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET.
"It's going to be the biggest game of the year," said Bourque.
"They've been struggling so they're definitely going to be ready for us, but we've played well there this year. This is the time of the year everyone wants to play hockey and this is when the best players have to be your best players."
Colorado also holds a game in hand on Calgary and currently has the edge in the tiebreaker (most wins) between the two teams.
"Nothing is over until it's over. Right now we're in a pretty good position, we got a little help today, and it feels good to go into Colorado and hopefully we can come up with a big effort," said Kotalik.
The Flames handed Phoenix its second straight loss. The Coyotes (47-25-6) have already secured a playoff spot and remain in fourth place in the West with 100 points.
Lee Stempniak scored Phoenix's lone goal while backup netminder Jason LaBarbera stopped 29 shots.
The Coyotes outshot Calgary 11-9 in the first period but both teams failed to generate a goal in the opening 20 minutes.
The Flames finally broke the scoreless affair at 14:23 of the second with a power-play goal. Defenceman Ian White directed a shot toward the Phoenix net that went off the skate of Bourque and past LaBarbera.
After Kiprusoff kept Calgary in front with two terrific saves early in the third, Calgary increased its advantage to two goals more than three minutes into the period. Kotalik, who did a terrific job in keeping the play alive in Phoenix's end, took a feed from Mikael Backlund before squeezing the puck under the left pad of LaBarbera.
It was Kotalik's second goal in as many games.
The Flames then made the mistake of playing too defensively, and it almost cost them.
The Coyotes responded with 6:52 remaining as Wojtek Wolski spotted a streaking Stempniak, who buried a one-timer behind Kiprusoff. The goal was Stempniak's 13th in 14 games since coming over in a deal from Toronto at the trade deadline.
Phoenix kept the Flames on their heels but couldn't get the equalizer by the stellar Kiprusoff.
"We played really well for the most part," said Stempniak. "If we score on a couple of those chances, it's a different game."
The Coyotes lost for just the fourth time in the team's last 14 contests, going 10-3-1 in that span.
With files from The Canadian Press