SUN Hockey Pool

Flames back on Rocky road

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

The scores might suggest it's been easy.

Sweeping the Colorado Avalanche in three games at the Saddledome this season has been anything but for the Calgary Flames.

Now that the Northwest Division rivalry moves down the Rocky Mountains into Denver tonight, it's going to get even tougher.

"There's nothing easy. We know that," said Flames defenceman Adrian Aucoin, who scored the winner in a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche Tuesday night before an empty-netter and powerplay goal in the dying seconds upped the differential.

"I think, right now, the only two teams that have anything kind of easy are Detroit and San Jose, because they perfected their system and their game and everything."

Other teams have had big ups and downs.

The Flames maybe more than most, with three wins in eight games following a six-game winning streak.

After a statistically dominant performance against the Avs Tuesday, the Flames know they can't let up in the rematch.

"We know, when we play that good, we really have to make an extra effort to follow it up," said Aucoin.

That shouldn't be too difficult. They've beaten the Avs by a combined score of 12-5 in their three meetings, and the 51-shot night Tuesday might have been their best of the season as they allowed just 23 pucks to get to their goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.

"That's the way we want to play," said Flames forward Craig Conroy. "For us, it's the 20-game marker. We've let games get away from us and we haven't been able to do it. We want to build on something.

"It's great to have a good game, but if we don't build on it ..."

Building on their defensive effort was a hot topic on and off the ice as the Flames enjoyed four days between games following an ugly 6-1 loss to the Sharks in San Jose last week.

Looks like the back-to-basics approach paid off.

But all three outings against the Avs have essentially been one-goal games with late additions to skew the scores in the Flames' favour.

The first was a 5-4 special-teams shootout.

The second was a 3-0 shutout for Kiprusoff, but it looked like a potential scoreless overtime game for he and fellow backstop Peter Budaj until the Flames exploded for three goals in the third period.

And while Tuesday's game looked one-sided apart from Budaj's spectacular netminding, the Flames expect more from the opposition tonight in Denver.

"We have to be better, because we know they're gonna be better," said Flames winger Eric Nystrom.

"They're going to come out flying and we need to match their intensity."

With the number of games against division rivals dropped by a pair to six this season, the Avs will want the next three against the Flames to at least even the series.

They'll have last change and a hungry crowd to help them.

"Home ice is huge because you get your matchups, but I think we have a deep enough team that anybody can play against anybody, whether it's the first line playing against their first line or our fourth line playing against their first line," said Nystrom. "We're confident in the depth we have as a team."

One thing working against the Flames is their record away from the Saddledome. They won three straight in Nashville, Phoenix and Los Angeles during their win streak, but have dropped three in a row away from home this month to sit at 3-6 on the road.

"We have to be better on the road. We haven't been good enough," sad Nystrom.

"This'll be a good challenge for us."


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