Calgary has reason to party

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

And so, it appears, the playoffs are here. The fans felt it, the players felt it and the rest of the Northwest Division must have felt it.

A spot in the West's elite eight is still not guaranteed but one thing is clear. Despite mounting injuries and ever-nagging rivals, the Calgary Flames are up to the task.

Steamrolling a surging Avalanche club with a work ethic and punishing forecheck no team in the NHL could have matched last night, the Flames' 6-3 win kick-started the type of citywide frenzy that sparked a two-month celebration two years back.

And whether Beltline residents like it or not, it's clear the path to the Red Mile will be well-worn from the 'Dome for the next little while.

A couple more efforts like last night's over the next week or so and the Saddledome show will officially be held over due to both popular demand and a clinched playoff berth.

Yes, spring is in the air and with it came an increased number of red jerseys and an inordinate amount of chanting and standing ovations last night.

All of it well deserved.

With Miikka Kiprusoff holding the fort early and the team weathering a 25-second Joe Sakic storm that put the visitors ahead 2-1 before the first break, the Flames' hard work and physical play paid off with a rare offensive barrage that had 'em dancing in the aisles.

Establishing a home-ice identity that not only intimidates opponents but has paid off with a 26-7-3 record, the Flames rode a wave of emotion last night to come back from early adversity and regain solo command of the Northwest Division standings.

After tonight's game in Edmonton, the news only gets better for the Flames as they not only have a game in hand over most divisional rivals, they also play five of their next six at the 'Dome. The place will be rockin'.

How long they'll have to do without Marcus Nilson, Rhett Warrener, Darren McCarty and Jordan Leopold, who was a late scratch due to a groin injury, is problematic, to be sure. But when Omaha call-up Craig MacDonald shows up in town and promptly seizes the opportunity to drive the net to convert a brilliant Shean Donovan pass, concern over depth is calmed.

Fans jittery over seeing Bryan Marchment and Cale Hulse manning the point as the team's third pair were also put at ease last night as the duo both finished plus-2 on the scoresheet.

The team's first-half disappointment, Chris Simon, is playing his best hockey of the year while Chuck Kobasew, Shean Donovan and Matthew Lombardi are all using their speed to create chances like the ones they all converted last night -- Donovan's being a beauty that ranks amongst the league's very best this season.

There's still plenty of hockey to play before playoff pools begin, but with nine games to go and eight points separating the Flames from ninth, the Red Mile's mayhem officially began last night.

And if last night's effort was any indication, it may not stop for quite some time.


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