Tilt with Tigers has playoff feel

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

There's never a must-win game on the first of February.

But the Hitmen-Tigers tilt tonight in Medicine Hat is certainly Calgary's biggest game of the season. First place, both in the Central Division and in the WHL's overall standings, is on the line.

So is home-ice advantage, should the two meet in the Eastern Conference final.

While the Hitmen were dropping a 7-4 decision in Swift Current last night, the Tigers were busy taking over top spot with a 3-0 victory in Lethbridge. There hasn't been much to choose from between the league's top two squads.

Calgary, which won just once in six meetings last season, is 2-0 against the Tigers but both victories came via the shootout in October.

Hitmen GM/head coach Kelly Kisio said he's expecting another close battle tonight.

"We've played each other real tight," Kisio said. "Obviously, they're a very good hockey team and we'll have to be better prepared to play than we were (last night)."

Calgary surrendered 39 shots in Speedy Creek last night and it won't get any easier against the high-powered Tigers, who have been spectacular at The Arena, where they are a WHL-best 19-2-0-2. The Hitmen are second-best on the road (16-7-0-0).

"That's a hard building to play in," Kisio said. "The fans get into it and it makes it hard to win in there."

If the past two meetings are any indication, tonight could come down to another goaltending battle between Calgary's Justin Pogge and the Tigers' Matt Keetley.

Pogge, who has turned away seven of nine Tigers in the pair of shootouts, leads the league in goals-against average (1.58), save percentage (.929) and shutouts (8). Keetley, a Calgary Flames prospect, is No. 1 with 32 wins.

In last night's loss, Steve Covington, Keegan Dansereau, Derek LebLanc and Freddie Pettersson scored for Calgary.

Regardless of tonight's outcome, the two rivals will battle for top spot the rest of the season. They'll meet again in Medicine Hat Feb. 19 before concluding the series with a pair in Calgary March 5 and 12.


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