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Avalanche-Flames Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Colorado Avalanche (40-25-8) at Calgary Flames (40-24-8).

TIME: Friday, 9:30 p.m. EST.

Colorado's Joe Sakic admits he's been watching the scoreboard as the NHL regular season winds down. This time he won't have to look far to see how his team's Northwest Division rival is doing.

The Avalanche and Calgary Flames battle for first place in the division when they meet at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Colorado beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 4-3 on Tuesday to take over first place in the Northwest. The Flames then regained a share of the lead Wednesday night with their 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

"Our conference is so tight, and the play is tight, we are watching the scoreboard every night," said Sakic, who had three assists against the Ducks. "Tonight is just one game, and we are in first for a day. We just will hope to continue it."

Colorado and Calgary are each tied for the fourth-most points in the tight Western Conference, though the Flames have a game in hand. The teams have split their six meetings this season.

"We knew the emphasis we had to put on this game," Calgary forward Tony Amonte said Wednesday. "We slipped out of first in our division and we wanted to get back up there tonight. It was a big game for us, we put everything we had into it, and now we look forward to the next one."

Jarome Iginla scored the eventual game-winner on a penalty kill for Calgary, which returned home after a disappointing 2-4-1 road trip. Six of the Flames' next eight games are at home, where they have won five of six.

"We have to play a physical, disciplined game. We aren't going to exchange rushes with anybody," said left wing Chris Simon, who pummeled George Parros in a one-sided first period fight. "We established ourselves physically early in the game."

Jamie Lundmark also scored for Calgary, but got a stick in the face in the second period and did not return. Defenseman Rhett Warrener missed his 11th game with an injured knee, although he is back skating with the team.

Andrew Brunette scored two third period goals - each after Anaheim tied the game - and had one assist Tuesday for the Avalanche, who are 3-0-2 in their last five. Brett Clark and Brett McLean also scored for Colorado, while Sakic extended his point streak to eight games.

"I think until Clark's (second period) goal we weren't playing as well as we could have," Brunette said. "Once we got that goal we started to pick it up and started taking over."

STANDINGS: Avalanche - 88 points, 1st place (tied), Northwest Division. Flames - 88 points, 1st place (tied), Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Marek Svatos, 32 goals; Sakic and Alex Tanguay, 48 assists; Sakic, 76 points; Ian Laperriere, 107 PIM. Flames - Iginla, 32 goals and 57 points; Daymond Langkow, 28 assists; Darren McCarty, 111 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 19.2 percent (82 for 426), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.9 percent (334 for 398), 7th. Flames - Power play: 18.4 percent (78 for 424), 9th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (373 for 445), 10th.

GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Peter Budaj (12-8-6, 2 SO, 2.72 GAA); Vitaly Kolesnik (3-3-0, 3.29). Flames - Miikka Kiprusoff (36-20-8, 8, 2.18); Brian Boucher (4-7-0, 4.16).


LAST MEETING: March 13; Flames, 4-3. At Calgary, Iginla scored two goals for the Flames, who regained the division lead.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 18-17-2 on the road; Flames - 25-7-3 at home.

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