The best way to make the playoffs is to provide playoff hockey.
You know the type: A tight-checking, close-to-the-vest defensive effort with solid forechecking and the right mix of goaltending and timely goal scoring.
That's the recipe the Calgary Flames came up with for last night's all-important 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
Exciting hockey? Depends on your point of view, but coming off a horrendous road trip and needing a win, no matter how it came, the Flames started the race to the finish line of all intra-divisional games with the exact kind of effort needed.
Combined with Vancouver's win over Edmonton and Detroit's victory over Nashville, the seventh-place Flames (38-26-10) have a six-point edge on the Western Conference's ninth spot, and sit two points ahead of Colorado (39-30-6) and with a game in hand.
The tension was easy to sense, with the crowd somewhat reserved and on-edge -- although trying to will the Flames out of their recent struggles.
The players also knew the importance of the clash, and both teams wanted to set a tone early, which drew Calgary's Jim Vandermeer and Ian Laperriere together to drop the gloves at the first whistle, nine seconds after the puck dropped.
Before too long, the hosts gave the sold-out Saddledome gathering of 19,289 reason to release the stress with a powerplay goal a little more than eight minutes into the clash.
Jarome Iginla picked up the puck near the corner and simply drove hard to the front of the net in an attempt for a shot on goal or to at least create some havoc.
Iginla couldn't beat Jose Theodore, but the puck sat in the crease for Daymond Langkow to tap home the easy goal for his 28th of the season.
It was only Calgary's second shot on goal.
The Flames' second goal also came via the man-advantage, which happened to be the second penalty drawn by Matthew Lombardi in the first period alone.
Theodore stopped Dion Phaneuf's point shot, but again couldn't contain the rebound, and Owen Nolan pulled the puck out of the crowd and began to work it around the prone netminder only to lose possession for a brief instant.
At that exact moment, Craig Conroy whacked home the puck for his 12th of the season.
From there, the Flames played precisely in the manner talked about after blowing leads in Washington and Atlanta last week.
They held Colorado without a shot on goal for the final 12 minutes of the opening period, and through all three Avalanche powerplays.
Even better news for the Flames and their fans, was that Calgary carried that momentum into a second period -- which hasn't been the case all too often this season.
Instead of letting up or sitting back, the Flames pushed to extend their lead. It didn't happen, but at least was a good sign considering their trends this season.
Colorado made a game of it by drawing on the board six minutes into the third period.
Scott Hannan's long shot hit the bodies in front of the net, where Ryan Smyth was parked. Ben Guite pounced on the loose puck and lifted a shot into the cage to make it a one-goal game.
The Avs managed only one shot on goal after that tally until there was three seconds remaining in regulation.
The Flames are back in action tomorrow night against the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m., CBC) at the 'Dome.