The Calgary Flames face the Colorado Avalanche tonight in a game which could decide which of the teams qualifies for the NHL play-offs. The Flames currently trail the Avalanche by just two points for the eighth and final play-off spot in the Western Conference following their 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.
"It's going to be the biggest game of the year," Rene Bourque, the Calgary forward, said. "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." Bourque opened the scoring for Calgary against Phoenix with his 25th goal of the season, beating Jason LaBarbera on a powerplay in the second period.
Ales Kotalik made it 2-0 early in the third, and Lee Stempniak scored for Phoenix with 6:52 left. Things looked bleak for the Flames last Saturday after a 5-0 drubbing in Boston left them six points behind the Avalanche. "We're definitely in a better position now than we were on the weekend," Bourque said. "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."
Colorado have a game in hand and would have the benefit of the tie-breaker (most wins) between the two teams. "Nothing is over until it's over," Kotalik said. "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." The Coyotes have one victory in their last five games after winning nine games in a row.
Elsewhere, Steven Stamkos scored his 46th goal to edge within one of NHL leader Sidney Crosby as the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0. "It was pretty bad. There's no sugarcoating it or trying to make something positive out of it, we didn't do anything that was positive," said Crosby, the Penguins captain. "We weren't ready to play. We thought we were going to play a team that laid down and isn't going to go to the play-offs, and we were just going to show up.
"Clearly, it didn't happen." Dan Bylsma, the Pittsburgh coach, was so unhappy with the display that he made the Penguins practice at 8.30am yesterday on what was originally supposed to be a day off for the team. * With agencies