Northwest: Flames, Avalanche gear up for divisional battles

By Blake Benzel

Photo: The Calgary Flames have had the edge in head-to-head play over the Colorado Avalanche so far this season, with two, big games on the horizon (courtesy of

Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)

You don’t have to tell the Calgary Flames and the Colorado Avalanche what is at stake in their last two meetings of the season – they already know well enough.

The next three games are huge, especially this one with Colorado,” Flames forward Lee Stempniak told “It’s a team we’re battling and it’s going to be pivotal in the standings.”

It would be easy to be hyperbolic about the two remaining games between these two teams, but the fact is that it isn’t hyperbole to say that the games could be a deciding factor as to whether or not one of them gets to play a few extra games this season, in search of Lord Stanley’s Cup.

As it stands, heading into Tuesday’s game, the Flames and Avalanche are separated by just two points in the standings. In fact, the seventh and eleventh spots in the Western Conference are separated by just two points.

On paper, the Flames seem to have the clear advantage in their games going back to last season.

Calgary has won nine consecutive games over the Avalanche, four of those nine wins coming this season, since losing at home to Colorado in a 6-5 decision on Oct. 28, 2010. They’ve outscored Colorado 36-15 over that span, never giving up more than two goals in a game and scoring less than three goals in a game just twice.

This isn’t, however, the same Colorado Avalanche team they played earlier this season and it’s certainly not the same team they played last season.

The additions of Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie have the Avalanche riding high. In fact, since the beginning of February, the Avalanche are 12-5-3 and have allowed more than three goals in a game just five times, while scoring more than three eight times. This is a team that is playing inspired hockey and one that knows what is at stake.

Right now, it’s all about piling up points,” Colorado head coach Joe Sacco stated in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “We’ve put ourselves in a playoff position and now the important thing is to try and accumulate as many points as possible down the stretch.”

At this point in the season, if you’re battling for a playoff spot, every game is a must-win but, for these two Northwest Division foes, this game and their upcoming contest on March 30th could very well hold their playoff futures, good or bad, as Flames defenseman Mark Giordano intimated to

Obviously, it’s a playoff game, it’s a team ahead of us in the standings and as it stands right now, it’s a game we … have to win.”

The stakes have never been higher for these two teams this season and, if you asked anyone in the Colorado locker room, they would likely tell you the same thing.

It’s win or go home, from here on out.

Northwest Division Notes

Flames forwards Tim Jackman and Lance Bouma and defenseman Chris Butler are all eyeing this week’s three-game road trip to return to Calgary’s lineup. All were on the team’s flight to Denver and all are now listed as day-to-day. … The Oilers have signed 20-year-old goalie, Tyler Bunz, to a three-year entry level deal. Bunz was 39-17-5 this season for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers and was drafted in the fifth round (121st overall) by the Oilers in the 2010 Entry Draft. … Canucks forward Mason Raymond was a healthy scratch in Vancouver’s 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Monday night. Raymond hadn’t registered a point in eight games and has just 16 points in 46 games this season.