SUN Hockey Pool

Flames will win a playoff round...but after that, who knows?

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The Calgary Flames will win the Northwest Division title.

They will have the No.-3 seed in the Western Conference standings and likely win a playoff round over -- let's say, Minnesota.

For all the hand-wringing by the fans, assertive meetings by the brass and wide-eyed "what happened?" looks of the players, their three-game losing skid is just a blip on the big screen.

A trio of consecutive regulation-time losses for the first time in 15 months shouldn't be taken lightly, and you can bet the soul-searching among everybody involved will be constant until they square off against the Anaheim Ducks this afternoon in the rare for Calgary -- very rare -- Saturday afternoon matinee.

The Flames are too good a team to collapse like 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers ("The Giants won the pennant!") and now that they're seeing that lead on the rest of the division slowly diminish, they'll find the next gear.

That's not to say there aren't serious problems to address immediately.

Going back beyond the three games they've lost, the Flames don't look like the team that rattled off all those victories after the mid-November beatdown in San Jose.

The forecheck that puts defending teams on their heels has disappeared. Instead of looking like a five-man unit in the defensive zone, it looks like a helter skelter group in a fire drill -- with Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf being the worst culprits of late.

The powerplay has succeeded in spite of itself, faltered in a big way against Dallas and Chicago, and the scoring depth has disappeared.

The good news is these are all fixable problems which they managed to overcome nearly three months back.

It will just take for them to get rid of that hint of complacency that appears to have taken hold during the dog days.

After that, all will be well.

As for winning two playoff rounds -- that's anybody's guess.

FLAMING C-NOTES

Good on Jarome Iginla for addressing the team for its shortcomings the other day, but it's high time the captain took a look in the mirror. Sure, the minus-4 rating against the Blackhawks isn't all his fault, but it does display something that's been all too evident this season: He's not holding up his end of the bargain when it comes to defensive-zone play. All too often, Iginla has been guilty of being way too far up the boards in the defensive zone and standing still when the puck comes to him for potential break-out plays ... Wonder how many current and former players were hoping to see Dion Phaneuf feed Colorado's Darcy Tucker earlier this week. Tucker was asking Phaneuf to drop the gloves, and the Flames defenceman declined. With the way the Flames lost all emotion that game, Phaneuf could have given his team a real boost at that time. It sure didn't look better on Phaneuf later when he was taking pokes at Marek Svatos ... One reason the Flames sure turn their fortunes soon: The hottest team they'll face in the next five games is the Los Angeles Kings.

HOCKEY TALKY

Let's see, the NHL and local owners can't find anybody to seriously consider ponying up some cash for the Phoenix Coyotes, yet the Nashville Predators have people tripping over each other. Sure tells you which team is more economically viable. Or, at least, will be easier to move ... The New York Rangers can't seriously be considering giving Sean Avery a chance? You wouldn't believe the difference in the Dallas Stars compared to a couple of months ago, not just on the ice but off, since Avery was suspended. If the Rangers think adding the pest will give their team "character" they're making a big mistake. Can't see the Broadway Blueshirts winning the Stanley Cup, but can't help but believe Avery will hurt them more than help. He'll be on his best behaviour for a spell, but a leopard doesn't change his spots. New York's record with him in the lineup (50-23-13) compared to when he was out (24-35-9) during his time in the Big Apple was a mirage ... The Montreal Canadiens do so many things well, but please don't make us watch another game with those barber-pole sweaters circa 1912-13. "It wasn't as bad during the game when there were only five guys out on the ice, but when I looked down during warmups and there were 23 guys skating around ... I was dizzy," said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton ... For something completely different, the Vancouver Canucks will have singer Michael Buble as a colour man for tonight's radio broadcast of the game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Buble, from Burnaby, is a big Canucks fan. He has to be, considering he listed his favourite players growing up as: Patrick Sundstrom, Ivan Hlinka, Doug Halward, Rick Lanz and Harold Snepsts. Being a B.C. boy myself, all those names just brought back so many painful memories.

YOU DON'T SAY?

"That really hurt and was an awkward feeling, so I will probably never do that ever again."

Blues goalie Chris Mason, who went for a spa treatment, including waxing of his eyebrows and nose. Since then, he's posted a 4-1-2 record and taken the No.-1 job in goal.


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