Flames no spoil sports

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:59 PM ET

COLUMBUS -- The spoils of victory this time of year go beyond the usual.

Wins are rewarding at any point of the NHL season, but as it gets down to the short strokes -- can you believe the Flames have 10 games remaining in the regular season? -- there are special fringe benefits.

Such as the joy of moving one step closer to punching that ticket for the playoff party.

And the good feeling of doing so at another's team expense.

Make no mistake, putting the crimps on another team's happiness isn't the No. 1 goal, except maybe for the Edmonton Oilers if you're with the Calgary Flames, and isn't the be-all, end-all.

It's just teams enjoy hammering the proverbial nail in another team's coffin.

Make no mistake about it, the Flames had the feeling after winning in Chicago Sunday afternoon, ensuring the Blackhawks were one step closer to missing out on the post-season party.

Tonight's clash against the Blue Jackets is nearly an identical situation, with Columbus seven points back of the eighth-place Vancouver Canucks and nine behind the Flames prior to last night's games.

Teams enjoy that chance to stick a dagger in an opponents' heart, especially when it's a team hanging on by the most narrow of margins.

"Absolutely," said Flames right winger Owen Nolan after yesterday's practice in the Ohio capital.

"You try to get in their minds by beating them and putting them that much farther away from us. It's that much harder when you have an opportunity to catch a team in front of you and you lose two points to them, they stretch away a little further.

"But I don't know so much if we're worried about this team, it's two points we need," he continued.

"Our race is so tight, and we started this trip by giving away four points.

"We need to finish with these two.

"I don't think it gives you an excuse to take the next game off or relax in any means, but it gives you a little bit of comfort."

Comfort is something the Flames have precious little of these days, especially after frittering away the first two games of their current road swing against probable also-rans Washington and Atlanta.

Remember those disasters?

Both involved blown leads.

Instead of enjoying a bit of breathing room on their Northwest Division foes, the Flames are also jammed into the claustrophobically tight race, with themselves, Colorado and Minnesota all tied for top spot and Vancouver two points back before last night's games.

And don't forget how Edmonton, seemingly left for dead a while back, has pulled within hailing distance by winning eight of its last 10.

Calgary's last nine games are intra-divisional affairs, so they'll have their chance soon enough to deal first hand with that situation.

First off is tonight's clash against a Blue Jackets team hoping to make one last push but knowing full well another loss or two will spell the end of its playoff hopes, again.

"For them, it's a must-have -- I imagine that's the way they're looking at it for playoff chances -- but we look at it as a must-have," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

"This time of year, the intensity does come up.

"You try to play all year as hard as you can, but when you start seeing it count down, the playoffs are right there, everybody finds another level of intensity."


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