SUN Hockey Pool

Playoff push starts tonight

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

The race is back on.

Finally.

The Olympic break is in the past and the NHL is back in swing.

For the Calgary Flames, the return to action comes with a big clash.

Tonight at the Saddledome, the first-place Flames meet the second-place Vancouver Canucks in a Northwest Division battle that can set the tone for the final 25 games, said right wing Darren McCarty.

"Last time they were in here, they beat us," McCarty said. "As close as the points are and the games in hand, it's imperative we have a very strong showing and play well these five games.

"It can really set us up in the right spot. We get those points now, it'll make it easier down the road."

Vancouver arrives two points in arrears of the Flames -- Calgary also has two games in hand -- and reeling due to a slew of injuries.

Defencemen Mattias Ohlund (ribs) and Sami Salo (shoulder) are on the shelf, joining fellow blueliner Ed Jovanovski, possibly out for the rest of the regular season due to abdominal surgery.

Throw in the fact the Sedin brothers and Jarkko Ruutu will arrive having played all the way through the Olympic gold-medal game and you'd think the Canucks are ripe for the picking.

Guess again, McCarty said.

"You have to look at it and formulate your game plan towards it but it gives different guys opportunities to step in," he said. "We know the way we have to play to capitalize on them."

Calgary also sits three points up on Colorado, with two games in hand, and has a five-point edge on Edmonton, with one game in hand.

It has the makings of a wild final seven weeks, though left wing Chris Simon said he and his teammates would prefer to keep it simple.

"We had goals in here where we wanted to be when this break started and now we have goals set for the last part of the season," Simon said. "It's gonna be important to get off to a big start. We have five games at home and want to use it to our advantage."

To do that, he pointed out, will take a better effort from top to bottom, including himself. With five goals through the first 70% of the season, Simon knows he has to deliver more down the stretch and beyond.

"Our (third and fourth line) is gonna be important, a big factor, especially when you play every other night for the rest of the season," Simon said. "The third and fourth lines have to pick it up and be the difference most nights."


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