Flames seek breathing room

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

The Calgary Flames can easily do the math in their heads.

A regulation win tonight against the Vancouver Canucks (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet) means the Flames would build an 11-point lead over their closest rivals in the standings.

A loss in 60 minutes means the Canucks are seven back and within striking distance.

So Michael Cammalleri is smart enough to know what a crucial week this will be for the Flames' Northwest Division title hopes.

"These are four-point games," said Cammalleri of tonight's tilt, Thursday's match in Minnesota and Saturday's game in Edmonton.

"We can really make a nice jump for ourselves if we play some good games this week."

Although the Canucks recently suffered an eight-game losing streak and a nine-game winless stretch at home, they enter the Saddledome tonight having won five of six contests.

The losing streaks coincided with the addition of Swedish star Mats Sundin, but the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain has found his groove, scoring four goals and four assists in the past six games.

The Canucks have also been boosted by the return of goaltender Roberto Luongo Jan. 15 after he missed nearly two months with a groin injury.

Those additions only stoke the rivalry.

"It's going to be fun now that Sundin is there and with all the hype that comes with it -- plus Luongo is back in there for them," said Flames forward Craig Conroy.

"It's a true test for us. They've played well lately, and we haven't played that great, but we will bring our 'A' game against them."

Luongo and Sundin didn't play the last time these two teams met for back-to-back outings Nov. 27 and 29.

With Cammalleri scoring a hat-trick in the opening 4-3 win, the Flames swept that two-game set to put themselves in position to take over the Northwest Division lead.

So the Flames are aware a Canucks sweep could do the same for Vancouver.

"Going into the series ... they could have really increased their lead over us," Conroy said. "They are probably saying the same things we did, which is this is as big a two points we will have all year.

"You always want to play well against a rival. It's 2-2 right now, and they have the catching up to do. We want to pull away. We need that killer instinct to get away from them."

The Flames did build some momentum from the road swing where they picked up five of a possible six points.

Following this game, the Flames play nine of their next 12 away from the Dome.

The Canucks will look to be road warriors as well, because their next four are away from home and all in Canadian cities.

"In those games, it was a tough stretch," said Flames winger David Moss. "We may have got five out of six, but there is lots of room for improvement.

"Whenever we get together with Vancouver, these games are tough. We wouldn't expect anything else. All the games from here on in will be good battles."

Cammalleri spent the past five seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and has yet to play in the NHL post-season.

"If I was a fan, these are the ones I would rather be watching," Cammalleri said.

"As a player, these are the ones I would rather play in."


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