SUN Hockey Pool

Avs are triple threat

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Facing the Colorado Avalanche the next three games could be perceived as a miniature playoff series for the Calgary Flames.

It would certainly be a way to break up the monotony created by the NHL's unbalanced schedule.

The premise is simple: Win two of three during a self-created elimination round. Sounds like a good idea, in the vein of "two out of three ain't bad."

Calgary head coach Jim Playfair doesn't feel the same way.

It's not in the best interests for him and his charges to look at the three games as a whole. It's more a case of three separate tilts -- tonight and Saturday at the Saddledome and Tuesday in Denver -- that just happen to be against the same opponent.

"The perception is that it's a bigger deal than what it is," Playfair explained. "For us, the focal point is preparing to play one game, preparing to start strong, preparing for the first five minutes in our building (tonight) because that's all you can focus on.

"We don't want to view it any other way. It's an important part of the schedule but if you lose focus on the first shift of the first game, you'll lose focus on a bunch of games."

Besides, it's not a three-game series for the Avalanche any way. The Avs have to travel to Vancouver for a Sunday clash before returning home.

What the upcoming series of games can become for the Flames is an opportunity to both solidify their spot in the Northwest Division race and kick a Colorado team that's teetering on the brink.

The Avs haven't plummeted to the bottom of the Western Conference standings but they do arrive here in very real danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since relocating to Denver from Quebec City for the 1995-96 season.

Sitting 10 points back of the Northwest pace and eight points out of a playoff spot prior to last night's action, it's already an uphill battle.

Flames forward Alex Tanguay knows his team has a chance to deal his old squad a strong blow.

"We could really put them a step back but we have to play the first game," Tanguay said. "It's like a playoff series in one way, you have to win the first one."

Amazingly, six of Calgary's 25 remaining games are against the Avs.

Giving the Flames confidence going into such a Avalanche-centric portion of their schedule is the fact their intra-divisional record sits at an impressive 11-5-3.

But don't expect Colorado to go away without a fight. Sure, the Avs are facing an uphill battle -- especially with 10 of their next 13 games on the road -- but their 2-0 win over Anaheim Tuesday shows they still have bite.

And with Joe Sakic leading the charge, they're always dangerous.

In fact, Sakic arrives here two goals shy of 600 for his career, and is poised to become the 17th player in NHL history to reach that milestone.

"He'll reach it, whether it's next game or 10 games from now, there's no doubt," said former teammate Tanguay.


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