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Flaming Rivalry

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
 With things heating up in the Northwest Division, it seems only fitting the Vancouver Canucks will face the Calgary Flames in three of their final seven games of the regular season.

The long-time rivals with a rich history of important springtime meetings (the 1989, 1994 and 2004 playoffs immediately spring to mind) are about to engage in a three-game series of sorts over the next 13 nights which will affect not only their own playoff standings, but those around them in the division and conference as well.

What makes these match-ups so intriguing is that while the cities and the organizations are remarkably familiar with each other, the current versions of these two teams haven’t gone head to head since New Year’s Eve. In fact, with the way the schedule was laid out this season, the Canucks have faced the Flames only twice in their last 56 games.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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And when they meet on Tuesday at the Saddledome – and again Sunday and then April 5th both at GM Place – the line-up the Canucks put on the ice will in no way resemble the team that fell 2-1 in Calgary when they last saw each other on December 31st.

That night, injured defencemen Aaron Miller and Lukas Krajicek were both in uniform along with the now-injured Mason Raymond, the now-departed Matt Cooke and Jason Jaffray and Mike Brown, both of whom have since been returned to the Manitoba Moose.

That’s a full third of the 18-skaters dressed that night who either can’t or don’t play for the Canucks any longer. So the team will have a new, or at least, different look for Calgary to deal with. But the line-up the Canucks go with on Tuesday boasts a number of players who’ve either had success at the Saddledome or should have added motivation to leave their mark on this hockey game.

Brendan Morrison, who scored the triple-overtime winner in the Saddledome in Game 6 of the 2004 series with the Flames, will see his first action against Calgary since a 4-1 win on November 18th.

Matt Pettinger, who was born in Edmonton and raised on this side of the Rockies, should have no problem learning to dislike the Flames as he gets his first taste of the rivalry since being acquired at the trade deadline.

Ryan Shannon scored his first goal as a Canuck in a 4-3 overtime win Calgary on October 6th, while Rick Rypien is from Coleman, Alberta, southwest of Calgary, and should be fired up for his first game of the year in Cowtown.

And, of course, Kevin Bieksa is back for his first visit to Calgary since the opening weekend of the season and these sure-to-be spirited games against the Flames are likely to bring out the best in the rugged rearguard. At least, that’s what the Canucks are hoping.

While the Flames won the most-recent match up between these teams, the Canucks have a wide edge in the season series having taken the first four meetings of the season. They’ve outscored the Flames 17-11 which includes holding a wide 9-3 edge in goals scored in the second periods of their games this year.

One area the Canucks have dominated Calgary this year is on the power play roasting the Flames for eight goals on 26 opportunities with the man-advantage (30.8%). On the flip side, the Canucks have killed off 20 of Calgary’s 24 power play chances leaving the Flames power play sputtering at 16.7% in the season series.

Daniel Sedin leads all players in the five head to head contests with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists) while Henrik has seven (2 goals, 5 assists) and Markus Naslund has chipped in with six (2 goals, 4 assists). The Canucks would gladly take contributions from those three on Tuesday night.

The Flames are led in scoring against the Canucks by Daymond Langkow with five points (2 goals, 3 assists) and Alex Tanguay with four points – all assists. Jarome Iginla, who had the seventh hat trick of his career on Saturday in a 5-4 win over Minnesota, has been relatively quiet against Vancouver this season with one goal and two assists.

One area the Flames have held a wide edge over the Canucks and one thing Vancouver will have to be ready for on Tuesday is body contact. The Flames have outhit the Canucks 96-71 in their five meetings. Both teams registered 18 hits on October 6th, but the Flames have held the edge in that department in each of the four subsequent match-ups. The Flames are bound to bring the heat on Tuesday and the Canucks have to be prepared to push right back.

Three meetings in the final two weeks of the season – fans in both cities couldn’t ask for much more. Unless, of course, they’re rewarded with the potential of seven more when the playoffs commence on April 9th. Oh, and since those series in ’89, ’94 and ’04 all went the distance, don’t be at all surprised if the Canucks and Flames haven’t settled things until April 5th.

This should be a lot of fun.
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