Points now at a premium

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Two points.

By the NHL's standards, two points at this time seems so insignificant. Hey, clubs can earn as many as 164 over a season. What's two points?

A big deal to the Flames in the wake of their 3-2 shootout victory over the Edmonton Oilers.

Had Matthew Lombardi not scored with 65 seconds remaining in regulation, Todd Bertuzzi not scored in the shootout and Miikka Kiprusoff not stopped all three Oilers he faced in the shootout, the Flames would have been two points closer to the Vancouver Canucks.

Instead of an eight-point cushion heading into tomorrow night's action, the Flames would only be six up on the Canucks.

Two points is a big deal.

"Definitely it is," said defenceman Cory Sarich.

"You're getting into the crunch. There's not a lot of games left. We just want to keep moving forward, get as many points as we can. To come away from that tight of a game with two points is huge. It's a boost. And to do it with a whole bunch of guys missing is a boost for the guys in the room, too."

The race for the Northwest Division has become a two-team affair.

Calgary pulled away from the pack first with a strong 11-week run on the heels of that mid-November debacle in San Jose.

The Canucks have been nearly perfect in February after being middling to struggling for a couple of months.

Both teams have 23 games remaining.

As much as the Flames enjoy their perch atop the division, which will come with the third seed when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, they're all too aware the Canucks are lately racking up victories -- eight in the last nine games.

"They're making a strong push, and we've got to meet the challenge every night," Lombardi said. "It's motivation every night to come out and play well. You let a couple slip and next thing you know, they're back in it.

"It's going to be tight from here on out. It's been like that all year. We've made some separation from teams and hope we keep it that way."

That separation has diminished enough to take away some of those cosy feelings.

When everybody awoke Feb. 1, the Flames were enjoying an 11-point edge on the division, but it was Edmonton closest with 53 points to Calgary's 64.

Vancouver was a dozen back of Calgary, and the Flames had a pair of games in hand. Calgary's four-game losing skid was costly.

The good news for the Flames, though, is what's transpired over the past two weeks.Both the Flames and Canucks have played seven games, and Vancouver has made up absolutely no ground.

The Flames have posted a 5-0-2 mark since Feb. 9. The Canucks have gone 6-1-0, and even beat Calgary during that stretch.

You have to think those Canucks, who watched the Flames-Oilers game Saturday after beating Toronto, didn't enjoy Calgary's ability to pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

"I don't really know what they're thinking, but they're playing good hockey, and that's what you try to do," Sarich said. "You can look at the standings all you want, but ultimately it's best to just worry about what you're doing."


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