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Wild, Flames battle for playoff footing

by Aaron Vickers / NHL.com

WILD (21-20-6) at FLAMES (26-19-3)

TV: FS-N, SNW

CALGARY -- It's not too early for the Calgary Flames to be looking both in front of them and over their shoulder.

Holding the second of two wild-card spots in the Western Conference heading into action Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, the Flames are keeping tabs on those teams around them.

"We have to be aware, it's our business," said Calgary coach Bob Hartley, who is expected to ice an identical lineup that beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Tuesday. "Obviously we're going to look [at the other scores] but at the same time we're just going to play our game. Once we're on the ice we can't focus on anything other than our job and doing our job. That's the fun part of [our situation]. We're starting February and we're right there, in the playoff picture, and that's motivating. We feel it from the fans and we feel it in the city. Just go out there and let's do our job and do it as good as we can and enjoy it."

The Flames have a share of third in the Pacific Division alongside the Vancouver Canucks at 55 points. Both clubs are just one point back of the San Jose Sharks for second, while Calgary is also one point up of the Los Angeles Kings and three ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for one of two wild-card spots in the West.

Though 34 games remain, there's plenty of watching going on.

And that isn’t about to change.

"I think just in the mornings watching highlights and stuff you realize which teams are around you and who's won and who hasn't," captain Mark Giordano said. "It's going to be like that for the rest of the year. Fortunately for us we're in a good spot as a team right now and we just have to keep piling up the points."

Giordano said he knows the Wild currently trail Calgary by seven points.

It makes the game Thursday that much more important.

"When you have a chance to separate yourself a little bit more than the team that's behind you, you always what to do that," Giordano said. "We're definitely looking at it as a big game but the important thing is anytime you play teams around you in the standings those are really important down the stretch, especially if you can get them in regulation."

The Wild said they are aware of where they sit in relation to the Flames too.

It's a prime opportunity to gain ground in the West, according to Zach Parise.

"We'd love to win it," Parise said. "I think it's the difference between being nine points back or being five points back. That's a big difference for us. At the same time you don't want to get caught looking at the standings but we know this is a team we’re chasing. We need to catch these guys. We need to have a really good game tonight.

"For us, the position that we've put ourselves in we need to win all the games we can. We’re chasing a lot of teams. It’s tough right now in our conference. It's really tough to leapfrog teams. We feel everyone’s winning all the time and there’s three-point games. It's not easy. When you find a team you’re not too far behind you have to take advantage."

Giordano said he would expect no less from Minnesota.

"It's a huge game and you know over there that's what they're going to be saying," he said. "They're going to say if we can close the gap and have a game in hand we're going to be right back in the thick of things. We expect a tight-checking game and they're a hard team to play against because they're so fast. It's going to be a good challenge for our team."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Thomas Vanek

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Jason Pominville

Ryan Carter - Charlie Coyle - Nino Niederreiter

Matt Cooke - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Nate Prosser - Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

Niklas Backstrom

Scratched: Christian Folin, Erik Haula

Injured: Keith Ballard (upper body)

FLAMES

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Jiri Hudler

Mason Raymond - Josh Jooris - Joe Colborne

Lance Bouma - Mikael Backlund - David Jones

Brandon Bollig - Matt Stajan - Paul Byron

Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie

Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman

Raphael Diaz - Deryk Engelland

Jonas Hiller

Karri Ramo

Scratched: Sven Baertschi, David Wolf, Tyler Wotherspoon

Injured: Sam Bennett (shoulder surgery), Curtis Glencross (lower body), Ladislav Smid (upper body)

Status report: Dumba, a Calgary native, was recalled from Iowa of the AHL on Thursday morning but Yeo wouldn’t confirm if he’d play. After absences from practice Wednesday, both Cooke and Suter are expected to play. … Glencross returned to practice Wednesday but didn’t take Calgary’s morning skate and will not play.

Who's hot: Though held pointless against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, Parise has five goals in his past five games. … Gaudreau has two goals and two assists over a three-game point scoring streak. He’s also recorded points in in five of his past six games, too. Monahan has four goals and six points during a five-game point streak.

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