SUN Hockey Pool

Flames no road warriors

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

ATLANTA -- The game slipped out of their hands.

The Calgary Flames perch atop the Northwest Division slipped through their fingers as well.

Remaining to be seen is whether the club will let a playoff spot slip away, too.

Despite holding a three-goal lead, the Flames dropped their second straight to a team going nowhere in losing a 6-4 clash to the Atlanta Thrashers last night. Now they're left to figure out what's gone wrong at such an important time.

"Certainly that killer instinct wasn't there," said head coach Mike Keenan. "It's perplexing more than anything why a group like this has had swings all season long, and they continue to have them at the detriment of our success.

"It is a frustrating group to work with."

Quite possibly no more frustrating than watching what transpired before the announced gathering of 16,244 at the Philips Arena.

When Jarome Iginla scored his second of the game early in the second period, the Flames had a 3-0 lead and appeared headed for a perfect rebound after losing in listless fashion in Washington the night before.

Even when Wayne Primeau tallied to make it 4-2 for Calgary -- stemming the tide after goals by Ilya Kovalchuk and Colby Armstrong that came 19 seconds apart -- the victory appeared in hand.

However, instead of finishing off a Thrashers team that had entered the game with one win in 10 outings and destined to miss the playoffs, again, the Flames lost control.

"Any time you have a three-goal lead and you're supposed to be a quality team, that should be enough to win," said right-winger Owen Nolan. "For some reason, we continued to gamble and give teams chances to come back and it happened again.

"Instead of playing smart defensively and wait for them to come to us -- wait for them to make mistakes and capitalize on them -- we continue to throw four guys up the play and get caught for two-on-ones.

"We sat back. It's not that we got outworked. A great way to protect the lead is to play in their zone, but we sat back and let them keep coming in waves at us.

"Once they started that, we never recovered."

"We need to play a lot smarter when we've got the lead."

At least when it's slipping away.

Kovalchuk's second of the game made it a one-goal clash heading into the final frame, setting the stage for goals by Chris Thorburn and Bobby Holik to give the hosts their first lead of the night.

Kovalchuk completed his four-point night with an empty netter.

"You're winning the game, you put it in lockdown. You can still go offensively, but be careful," said Craig Conroy. "We don't want to be giving up three-on-twos, two-on-ones, breakaways. We've got to have that playoff mentality. Three-nothing should be game over. It's inexcusable. To give up six is embarrassing."

Daymond Langkow also scored and had a three-point game for Calgary (36-25-10), which has only one victory in its last four outings.

The Flames also failed to register their first 'W' in Atlanta since the Thrashers' arrival. Calgary has lost four of the five encounters and played the other to a draw.

Curtis Joseph stopped 26 shots in taking the loss between the pipes

Kari Lehtonen rebounded from a shaky first period to stop 28 shots for Atlanta (31-33-8).

These games against Washington and Atlanta were supposed to be the golden chance for the Flames to make hay with their games in hand on their Northwest rivals. Instead, they awake this morning clinging to a playoff spot.

Iginla insists all is not lost with 11 games left.

"We're getting ourselves in the position to win these last games. We were in the lead, and we've got to find ways to play better when we have the lead," he said. "We're doing the right things to get in that position on the road -- the Thrashers didn't give up at all -- but from our point of view we have to win those games."

Calgary's road swing continues Sunday in Chicago against the Blackhawks.


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