Winning the Northwest Division and securing home ice in the opening round of the playoffs would surely be good enough for the Calgary Flames.
Doing it on the road against their closest pursuer would be even sweeter.
The Flames look to clinch the division and the third seed in the Western Conference on Tuesday night while handing the Vancouver Canucks a fourth straight loss.
Calgary (45-28-6) was coasting to its first division title since 2005-06 with a double-digit points lead over Vancouver (42-27-10) early last month but a 5-9-0 slide allowed the Canucks to take over the top spot in the Northwest.
The Flames, though, rebounded from Friday's loss at Minnesota with a 4-1 victory over visiting Los Angeles on Monday to move two points ahead of Vancouver with three games remaining for both teams.
A regulation victory Tuesday would give Calgary the division because the best finish the Canucks could then have would be 98 points with one less win than the Flames.
"It's really exciting. It makes (Tuesday's) game, for our team, absolutely huge, and for me personally, probably the biggest game I've played in my NHL career," said Flames winger Mike Cammalleri.
Calgary, however, is not without concern heading into this showdown.
The Flames are a dismal 2-9-1 this season in the second half of back-to-back games and are scoreless on 31 consecutive power-play opportunities over the past seven contests.
"This is what you play for," captain Jarome Iginla said. "All season, you talk about the division and now we have the opportunity. It's just one game. We're looking forward to it and we feel in back-to-backs, we're due for a lot better performance, too."
Vancouver needs a win to keep alive its chances at a division title but also to stay in the hunt for the fourth seed in the West and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago is currently fourth with 97 points, three ahead of the Canucks.
One of the league's hottest teams with a 20-5-1 record in February and March, Vancouver has cooled off in April with a three-game skid (0-2-1), its first since an eight-game losing streak at the end of January.
Facing the worst team in the West on Sunday, the Canucks lost 4-1 at home to injury-riddled Colorado, which had lost eight straight.
"It's certainly not what we expected," coach Alain Vigneault said. "In everybody's mind this was a game that would put us one step closer to a championship in our division and possibly home ice and we didn't play very well. They were the better team on the ice tonight."
The loss was Vancouver's first regulation home defeat since Jan. 28 and ended an 11-0-2 streak that included a franchise-record 11 straight wins at GM Place.
"There's no excuses tonight," goaltender Roberto Luongo said. "It was a game we needed to have and we all need to give a bit more, starting with myself."
Luongo hasn't had much trouble this season against the Flames, going 3-0-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and one shutout. He missed two other meetings with Calgary while recovering from a groin injury and the Canucks lost both.
Cammalleri has four goals and one assist this season against the Canucks while Iginla and Daymond Langkow each have five points. Daniel Sedin is Vancouver's leading scorer versus the Flames with seven points on three goals and four assists.
Vancouver was a 4-3 shootout winner at Calgary on Feb. 17 in the most recent meeting.
|D. Van Der Gulik||6||0||2||2||-1||0||0||0|