SUN Hockey Pool

Night off may draw criticism

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

ANAHEIM -- Conspiracy theorists, this is your big day.

Those folks always on the lookout for nefarious schemes will have plenty of speculative fodder during tonight's Calgary Flames-Anaheim Mighty Ducks season-ending tilt (8:30 p.m., pay-per-view).

There's essentially nothing on the line for Calgary.

They can't move in the standings, have already claimed the Northwest Division crown and know when the playoffs begin Friday night in the Stampede City, they'll have home-ice advantage over the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

What team that will be, however, will likely be decided in the outing at the Arrowhead Pond.

As of this morning, Anaheim, currently holding that No. 6 spot in the Western Conference, has a one-point lead on Colorado. The Avalanche, playing in Edmonton tonight, has the tiebreaker if the clubs finish tied in the standings.

That means the Ducks, with their headstart, must equal or beat what the Avs do to hold their position and face the Flames in the opening act of post-season play.

Which is where the Flames -- and decisions made by GM/head coach Darryl Sutter -- come into play, especially if someone out there figures he is willing to pull a Bengt-Ake Gustafsson.

Remember him? He's the Swedish Olympic hockey coach who admitted it would be worth it to throw a game against Slovakia so his side could face Switzerland instead of Canada or the Czechs in the first playoff round.

It's hard -- OK, impossible -- to believe someone as competitive as Sutter would do something similar.

Still, being Game 82, and with nothing on the line, tonight's clash would be the perfect time to give a few key players a rest. Workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff should hand the netminding duties to Brian Boucher after 15 straight starts.

But that's just potentially the beginning. Couldn't minute-munching defenceman Robyn Regehr use a breather? How about Rhett Warrener? Dion Phaneuf?

Up front, Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow would benefit from a night off from the crashing and banging.

There are enough healthy bodies to take their places.

Here's where the conspiracies begin.

If a couple of those players aren't on the ice and the Flames lose, ensuring the Ducks are Calgary's opposition, some observers may assume the Flames would prefer to play a suddenly struggling Anaheim team to a veteran-laden Colorado club.

The Ducks, however, are in the driver's seat. A win tonight will guarantee them a first-round matchup against Calgary instead of the more offensively talented Dallas Stars.

Iginla said he couldn't imagine asking for the game off for any reason, let alone to affect the playoff picture.

"It's fun to play.

I want to play. I wouldn't want to sit out," he said.

Besides, said Tony Amonte, this is a chance to set a tone against a potential playoff opponent.

"I've sat out before going into the playoffs and it seems like it takes you a game to get going," Amonte said.

"I think everybody that plays wants to play and wants to be in the lineup, keep on working on things and get ready for next week.

"You never want to give them anything, especially if we're gonna be facing them in the playoffs.

"It's an important game for us, we want to win on the road and prove to ourselves we can win on the road.

"You have to do it in the playoffs, so you might as well start now."

But if they don't, rest assured theories will start the playoffs on an interesting note.


Photos