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The Calgary Flames can finalize the Western Conference playoff field, and end the Colorado Avalanche's run of 11 straight postseason appearances, when the teams meet at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Tuesday night.
If the Flames can win a season-high seventh straight game, they'll clinch a third straight playoff spot and ensure the Avalanche franchise misses the playoffs for the first time since 1993-94, when it was the Quebec Nordiques.
Despite equaling a season high with six straight victories, originally set from Nov. 4-17, the Flames have only been able to increase their lead over Colorado by three points. The Avs are 12-1-2 in their last 15 games.
"The big thing is Colorado is right there," Flames center Craig Conroy said, "so it feels like playoff time already."
The teams remained seven points apart with one-goal victories Saturday. Calgary completed a perfect four-game road trip with a 3-2 win at Vancouver, while the Avalanche rallied for a 2-1 home victory over Minnesota.
"We were hoping that (Tuesday's game would have) some meaning and it was going to be an important game," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "And it is."
Miikka Kiprusoff will look to lead the Flames to their first seven-game win streak since an eight-game run from Nov. 1-16, 2005. He's stopped 175 of 184 shots and has not allowed more than two goals during the six consecutive victories, during which he has a 1.47 goals-against average.
"We knew we were in a tight spot and battling for a playoff position, and fortunately we were able to pick up our game," said Flames center Daymond Langkow, who has totaled two goals and three assists in the last two games. "It's because we're playing a lot better defensively."
The Flames, whose 30 home wins lead the NHL, have scored more than three goals only once in their last nine games. Calgary hopes it can rely on Kiprusoff's home-ice dominance - his 28-7-2 record at home is the league's best - as it looks to secure a postseason spot and climb past seventh-place Minnesota, which is one point ahead of the Flames.
"Every game for a long time now has been big," Kiprusoff said. "We still need to win."
Kiprusoff is 6-2-0 with a tie and a 2.97 GAA in 10 home games against Colorado. He's lost the last two meetings overall, however, as Colorado evened the season series at three games apiece. Kiprusoff is 9-7-0 with a 2.96 GAA in 19 overall appearances against the Avalanche.
Despite their recent hot streak, it may be too late for the Avs to extend the franchise's run of playoff appearances. Colorado and Calgary will each have three games left after Tuesday, and the Avs almost certainly will have to win out to surpass the Flames.
"We have to play desperate," Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "We have ourselves to blame because we put ourselves in this position and we put ourselves behind the 8-ball. We finally put together a heck of a run."
The Avalanche showed their poise in beating Minnesota, getting the winner from rookie Paul Stastny on a power play with 6:33 left in second period. That ended a six-game goal drought for Stastny, who has three points in seven games since his NHL rookie-record 20-game point streak was snapped.
"These are desperation times," Stastny said. "It has loosened us up. We sure aren't nervous."
Colorado's Peter Budaj is 11-0-2 with a 2.22 GAA in his last 14 starts and hasn't allowed more than three goals during that span. However, he's 3-5-1 with a 3.66 GAA in 11 appearances against Calgary, including 0-4-0 with a 3.83 GAA in five games at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
"We have to come together and play desperately," Liles said. "You only hope it's not too late."