Not that they're looking ahead, mind you, but the surging Calgary Flames
could be in sole possession of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot by the time Sunday evening rolls around.
The Flames will take a three-game winning streak and plenty of momentum into Sunday afternoon's game with the Chicago Blackhawks
at the United Center.
A win over the Blackhawks, coupled with a Colorado loss to San Jose on Sunday night, would catapult the Flames ahead of the slumping Avalanche into the coveted eighth spot and complete a remarkable rally from a nine-point deficit on March 17.
"We're a pretty confident team right now," goalie Miikka Kiprusoff
said. "But we can't worry about anything other than what we are doing right now. We have a huge game in Chicago and that's not going to be an easy game to play. We have to be ready and we have to be at the top of our game. We need all these points."
The Flames have gone 0-2-1 against the Blackhawks, who are in first place in the Central Division with 103 points and trail the conference-leading Sharks by three points in the race for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
But the Flames were in the throes of a nine-game losing streak (0-6-3) when they previously played the Blackhawks in January, when it appeared to most folks around the NHL that making a late-season playoff run was unrealistic.
That certainly isn't the case now. The Flames knocked off the Avalanche 2-1 on Friday in Denver and now the teams are tied with 89 points apiece. The Avalanche still own the eighth spot because they have more wins (41-40) and have played one fewer game (78-77).
Colorado also captured the season series with four wins in six meetings, incase that tiebreaker is needed.
But it's the Flames who are on a roll, having won six of their past nine games, while the Avalanche are in free-fall mode with seven losses in their past eight contests.
"We knew they were a fragile team," Flames right wing Eric Nystrom
said after Friday's game. "We got on them early. We've got to keep the pressure on, keep playing well, and make sure they're feeling the heat. I think they are at this point.
"You're looking at the standings and sometimes it's a snowball you can't stop. Right now we're going in the right direction and they're going in the other direction. We've got to make sure we're keeping it that way. Hopefully, it's going to keep going that way for them."
Calgary has scored more than three goals just twice in the past 12 games but is getting solid goaltending from Kiprusoff, who stopped 35 of 36 shots in Friday's win against the Avalanche and was named the game's first star.
"Any team, to have success, has to have good goaltending," Flames coach Brent Sutter
said. "It's the wall of your team."
Kiprusoff was especially strong after Colorado drew within 2-1 at 7:32 of the third period on a goal by T.J. Galiardi
. He made 11 saves in the period, including spectacular stops against Ryan O'Reilly
, Chris Stewart
and Brandon Yip
to keep the Flames in front.
"I see these highlight-reel saves all the time," said left wing Rene Bourque
, whose tip of defenseman Cory Sarich
's point shot at 2:11 of the third period gave Calgary a 2-0 lead. "But I'm still amazed at how he stops them and keeps them out of the net. It's unbelievable."
If Bourque played more games against Colorado, he might have a shot at the Rocket Richard Trophy for the most goals in the League. Bourque scored six times against the Avalanche this season, with game-winners in each of the final two meetings.
"We were taking it like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final," Bourque said of Friday's game. "That's how we have to treat every game from now on. We know what it's going to take to win and get into the playoffs. Everybody has been putting their best efforts in."
After Sunday's game in Chicago, the Flames will play two of their final three at home. They meet San Jose on Tuesday and Minnesota on Thursday before closing out the regular season Saturday in Vancouver against a Canucks team that has all but wrapped up the Northwest Division title.