SUN Hockey Pool

(Top) seeding is believing

STEVE MACFARLANE, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Believing every game the rest of the way is a playoff contest, the frame of mind is especially true for this afternoon's matchup.

With a fourth straight win, the Calgary Flames can snatch the Northwest Division lead away from host Minnesota Wild.

Knowing a win over the Detroit Red Wings Friday would set up the potentially pivotal swing in the standings for today's battle, the Flames got the job done with a 1-0 triumph over the league's top team in what looked a lot like a post-season game itself.

"We talked about that as well (Friday) morning. We wanted to set it up that going into Minnesota it would be a showdown for first place in the division," said defenceman Robyn Regehr.

"We came out with a hard-fought win. It's exciting for us with everything we've been through as a team to really bear down and, I think, play much better the last three games.

"It's a great opportunity for us."

Successful in four of their previous five against the Wild in the season series, today's puck drop (noon, Sportsnet) comes at a crucial time for both teams.

The Flames have slugged their way through three straight wins over the Phoenix Coyotes, Dallas Stars and the Red Wings

Meanwhile, the division-leading Wild have hit a minor hiccup in their quest for the Northwest crown.

A shutout loss at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks was their second straight defeat, allowing the Flames to close the gap.

"It's exciting. We've got a shot at it now," said Cory Sarich, Regehr's partner on the blueline.

"It's in our control for a change. Lots of days, you're just sitting there watching standings and there's nothing you can do.

"We've got to get ourselves ready and take advantage of it."

A few stinkers and some wildly inconsistent play since the all-star break led both general manager Darryl Sutter and head coach Mike Keenan to address the players in recent days.

The latter took place in the Arizona desert, and the Flames have won all three games since.

Friday's lone goal-scorer Alex Tanguay doesn't believe the discussions are the difference between winning and losing, but says all his teammates realize how hard they have to work if they want to make the post-season -- even though they're currently one win away from the division lead.

"Guys in here are very aware of our situation. We need to play with a little more desperation," said Tanguay.

"I think the guys on the ice have played well. We haven't played some of our best games but we've battled.

"That's going to be the difference between being in the playoffs and being out of them at this point."

Looming over them is Tuesday's trade deadline, when any underachievers could either be shipped out or potentially replaced as starters by new additions as the 23-man roster limit goes out the window.

Craig Conroy is confident in the existing crew, despite the inconsistency that has plagued them throughout the season.

"We're a much better team than we've played those other games," said Conroy, adding the key is keeping their game simple and forechecking hard on dump-ins.

"If we do play hard and work and keep it simple, good things happen for us."

He's heard all the rumours, but would be happy to see Sutter stand pat.

"I'd just as soon go with this team. I think we have a good chance," said Conroy.

"It's a solid group we have here and it's a good chemistry in the room, too."

A win over the Wild would help prove their case.

Of course, the last three outings have been a good start to what needs to be a great finish to the regular season.


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