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Flames fight for position as they face Canucks

by Matthew Mankiewich
CANUCKS (44-16-9) at FLAMES (36-25-9)

TV -- CBC (HD)

Last 10 --
Vancouver 7-3-0; Calgary 6-3-1

Season series -- Two more to go out of the usual intra-divisional six meetings, which gives the Flames an opportunity to force a split. The Flames ended a four-game Canucks winning streak over them with a 4-3 shootout win Jan. 22 at Rogers Arena, but the Canucks bounced back three weeks later with a 4-2 home victory to take three out of four so far this season and six of the last eight.

Big story --
Two of the hottest teams in the Western Conference butt heads once again, but for the Flames it can be a lot more than a statement game as they try to solidify their position in the playoff race. They're now in a logjam for the fourth, fifth and sixth seeds with the Blackhawks and Coyotes, and five other teams are no more than four points behind. Last time the Canucks visited Scotiabank Saddledome in early December, they clobbered the Flames in a 7-2 blowout, part of a funk that dropped the Flames to 14th in the conference and left them virtually for dead. Since Christmas, they're 22-7-6 and back in business.

Team scope:

Canucks -- It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly exciting. After dominating the Sharks in the first period Thursday, San Jose came back with a pair of goals in the first two minutes of the second. The Canucks were able to eke out another lead in the third, but Ryane Clowe tied it with 20 seconds left to force overtime, then the shootout, finally won by the Canucks 5-4 to take their fourth straight win on their five-game road trip.

Despite the score, Cory Schneider clearly was the star of the game, stopping 44 shots to keep his teammates in it.

"There were a couple of points there in the second and third where I was pretty tired," said Schneider on the team's official website. "But I just tried to hold the fort and give us a chance to win and we got some big goals late and held on there at the end."

Flames -- The mission hit a bump in the road, as one of the Flames' most immediate rivals drew even with them. The Coyotes took advantage of a somewhat road-weary Flames team on Thursday, catching them flatfooted early and then using a strong Ilya Bryzgalov performance to keep the lid on a 3-0 win, and a tie in points with the Flames for fourth place in the West. It was only the Flames' second loss in 12 games and the first time they had been kept off the scoreboard since a 6-0 home loss to the Wild on Jan. 19.

"I thought we could have played more physical," captain Jarome Iginla said. "Bryzgalov, though, was strong. He saw everything, and that was the difference."

"We have to move past this one, and get ready for Vancouver," coach Brent Sutter said. "We did not have enough around the net to get second and third opportunities. Right now, every game is a challenge because so many teams are battling for playoff spots."

Who's hot -- Daniel Sedin's power play goal on Thursday not only extended his NHL lead to 86 points, but also gave him a League-leading 47 on the road. He and his brother Henrik have four-game points streaks going, combining for 14 points over the span. Schneider is 13-3-2 with a .927 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average in his first full NHL season.

Injury report --
Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa (foot) is skating toward a return as early as next week, though Lee Sweatt's broken foot will keep him out a little longer. Defenseman Andrew Alberts (broken wrist) is still several weeks away, while Alexander Edler still holds out hope he can return from back surgery in time for the playoffs. … On the Flames' side, Brendan Morrison (knee) is week-to-week and defenseman Daymond Langkow (neck) is on the long-term injury list but started skating again.

Stat pack --
Calgary's power play continues its hot-and-cold performance between home and away venues, its 23.9 percent at home third-best in the NHL versus a 12th-best 18.1 percent on the road. Prior to the shutout in Phoenix, they had averaged 3.8 goals per game over their previous 11 contests, winning eight of them. Likely starter Miikka Kiprusoff has a 4.75 GAA against the Canucks over his last eight starts, but is 8-1-1 with a 1.87 GAA in his last 11 starts overall. His 3.22 lifetime GAA against Vancouver is the highest of any Western Conference opponent. … Henrik Sedin has seven goals and eight assists over an 11-game points streak against the Flames. Otherwise red-hot Jarome Iginla has only 1 goal and 4 assists in his last 10 meetings against the Canucks. Alexandre Burrows and Mason Raymond have 7 points each against Calgary this season.

Puck drop -- If this is a prelude to a possible playoff matchup, keep in mind that in four of the six instances when the two teams met in the postseason, the winner went to the Stanley Cup Final, including the last three in a row.

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