SUN Hockey Pool

The Flames' amazing race

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

It's no longer a marathon. Nor is it short enough to be called a sprint. Instead, let's call it the team pursuit.

(Hey, you gotta keep in the Olympic spirit these days.)

Either way, the Calgary Flames' R 'n' R is done.

With 30% of the NHL regular season schedule remaining, the Olympic break is over for most of the Flames, who get back on the ice today.

Other than the trio (Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold) still in Turin battling for Olympic hardware, the Flames will regroup today to begin preparation for the race to the playoffs.

Get ready for a seven-week steady stream of excitement.

Beginning with next Tuesday's Saddledome clash against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary will play 25 games in 49 days.

It's a schedule similar to what the 29 other NHL teams are facing between now and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That number of games is already a tall order -- especially when you throw in the amount of travel involved for Western Conference squads -- but the degree of difficulty hits a whole new level in this neck of the woods.

With Calgary, Vancouver, Colorado and Edmonton all in the hunt for the Northwest Division crown (Minnesota isn't exactly out of the race either), the rush to Stanley Cup '06 will be like nothing we've seen before in these parts.

Take a moment to ponder how exciting this will be.

All five teams -- including the resurgent Minnesota Wild -- are all realistically capable of winning a divisional crown and the home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs that comes with it.

When's the last time Calgary was in a chase for a title this late in the season?

Heck, when's the last time Calgary and Edmonton were fighting each other for that kind of glory?

Sounds like a thrill a minute, eh.

Here's the best part.

Sure, the NHL must reconsider the over-weighted intra-divisional schedule but all the games on the slate between fellow Northwest squads will make it all the better between now and April 18.

On the docket for Calgary is four dates with Colorado, two more against Edmonton, three more against Minnesota and two with Vancouver.

That's right, nearly half of the Flames' remaining games are the proverbial four-pointers. Calgary's record against those clubs so far this season is an impressive 14-5-2.

However, that kind of success can be fleeting.

Edmonton still has 11 games against the rest of the Northwest, while Colorado has 10 and Vancouver eight.

Minnesota, with the worst intra-divisional record among the five squads at 7-12-1, has a dozen games remaining against divisional foes.

Just as the Flames can be the authors of their own fortunes down the stretch, the same goes for all the other parties involved.

Forget what the U.S. TV networks are pushing on us.

For the next couple of months, we'll be smack dab in the middle of what will truly be The Amazing Race.


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