DENVER -- Joe Sakic has been relatively silent since last facing the Calgary Flames but apparently the Rocky Mountain rivalry brings out the best in the Colorado Avalanche star.
He scored his first goal in seven games and added an assist to lead the Avs to a 3-2 victory at the Pepsi Center last night.
The Avalanche waited a whole month to celebrate Sakic's 600th NHL goal -- which he scored in a 7-5 win in Calgary Feb. 15 -- but the captain took just 1:15 to net his 602nd to give the Avs an early 1-0 lead.
Sakic had scored just once since that Feb. 15 meeting when he fired his milestone marker into an empty net but appeared rejuvenated after collecting a silver stick during a pre-game ceremony. He was the best player on the ice and led his team to an 8-0 shot advantage in less than four minutes.
The Flames, though, feel responsibility for the loss rests squarely on their shoulders.
"The biggest responsibility for our team is to be prepared to come out," said a smouldering Flames head coach Jim Playfair after a lengthy dressing room meeting. "It starts with our top players, it starts with our top defencemen and they've got to be a lot better."
Playoff hopes are slim for the Avs but they played as if they were already in the post-season. They knew they had to win all three meetings against the Flames to have any serious chance at catching the eighth seed in the West.
That desperation wasn't matched by the Flames, who may feel a little too comfortable from their current playoff perch which dwindled to an eight-point gap with a dozen games to play -- including two more head-to-head.
"That should be a great game for us," lamented Tony Amonte. "They were beatable tonight. We beat ourselves, they didn't beat us. We gave them their goals off mistakes we made."
Sakic's goal came into an open net after a scramble around Miikka Kiprusoff's crease left the netminder down and out.
A powerplay goal from Milan Hejduk late in the second was tougher to prevent but the winning goal from Paul Stastny was a disaster just 50 seconds into the final frame.
Dion Phaneuf couldn't retrieve the puck safely in the corner and Brett McLean slipped it to Stastny, who one-timed it from a bad angle under Kiprusoff's arm as he tried to cover his post.
"He beat me seven-hole," said Kiprusoff, who faced 42 shots from the Avs on the night. "It's a tough goal."
His teammates wouldn't fault their goaltender, who was the only reason the game was still within reach in the end. The Flames hit a couple of posts early and never made a real push in the third period.
"It's not a good enough effort. Our team down the stretch, we've got to learn from the past," said Phaneuf. "You can't expect Kipper to make 40 saves a night. He's one of the best goalies in the world but you can't expect him to make that many saves every night."
Powerplay goals from Jarome Iginla and Stephane Yelle -- who left the game and didn't return after the first period -- gave the Flames a 2-1 lead heading into the second period.
Iginla tipped home a Roman Hamrlik point shot to give the veteran his 500th point in the NHL.
A pair of penalties allowed the Avs to tee off on Kiprusoff and steal back the momentum and the Flames slid further into their shells.