Pump up the volume!

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Regardless of whether the Flames clinch eighth place with a win over Colorado, the playoffs officially begin here tonight.

Make that this afternoon.

That's when tens of thousands of Flames fans will start getting butterflies and feeling the same sort of excitement that coursed through their veins during each of the Flames last two playoff appearances.

Returning home from a four-game road sweep and in the midst of a six-game show of force, the Hero's Welcome the players will receive when they step on the ice is bound to be as resonant as the 'Dome has been since, well, last April.

"I expect this building to be as loud as it's been all year," said Craig Conroy, who still smiles when talk of Calgary's 2004 spring scene is repainted.

"It's going to be a playoff atmosphere -- it really is. There's a reason we're maybe the best team at home and it's those fans. That's a big part of it for us."

Rhett Warrener recently made note of the increased decibel level he noticed late in the last home game against Nashville in which his overtime goal nearly blew the roof off the joint. And given the fact a playoff berth can finally be nailed down by disposing of the Avs once and for all tonight, he knows everyone is well aware of just how dramatic and emotional things could get.

"It's a smart hockey town and everyone knows what's at stake," said Warrener, whose team has done a good job of late mirroring the type of on-ice emotion the fans have long displayed off it.

"All that matters is clinching that spot and moving forward. I think the fans will be excited, especially against a team that's chasing us."

Sporting the league's best home record at 30-7-2, the Flames have done well to reward fan loyalty and spirit that saw season-ticket renewals flood in last week at a near record pace. But nothing would cap off one of the team's best 'Dome years of all time by wrapping things up in dramatic fashion and then sticking around to give designated season-ticket holders the jerseys off their backs.

"I think they're going to be pumped up for the game especially with Colorado coming in -- we've had some good games with them," said Matthew Lombardi, whose team has played in front of sold-out Seas of Red for more than 110 straight home outings.

"This will be a little taste for them of the playoffs. Even when we've come back 1-3 from the road, they've been pretty good with us because we've been so good at home and the energy has been there."

Now, after stealing all eight points from some of the NHL's most hostile environs, they'll be showered with the sort of vociferous endorsement that will have ears ringing for days.

"It's not about home or road right now, it's about winning games and I think the momentum is starting to build," said Jarome Iginla of the ramped-up celebrations surrounding home games.

"Against Detroit, everybody knew the importance and same with Nashville and now I expect it to be the same. Now we have a chance to clinch a spot and the fans obviously want that."

So do the players.

And if they can match the energy fans will bring tonight, Saturday (against Edmonton) and every night of the playoffs, this little party might just rave on for a while.


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