Flames taking points off rivals

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

Take care of your own backyard.

It's a great message in life.

And it's a great message to heed in the NHL.

Certainly, the Calgary Flames have done a good job of doing just that this season.

So far, they've done the best job of taking care of their own backyard in the Northwest Division, one big reason they're on pace for the regular-season title.

The Flames sit atop the Northwest standings heading into tonight's clash with the Minnesota Wild, and a key component to that success is their mark against their four division rivals.

They boast an 11-5-2 record this season to give them the most points among the Northwest squads.

"I'm surprised to hear that because we didn't start out well," said Flames centre Craig Conroy. "We lost, what, the first four? No, four of the first five.

"But that's something we've talked about all year. We always talk about how big divisional games are. Our division is always so tight."

The past few years, the Northwest has consistently been the most competitive in the NHL.

Therefore, games against each other have been put at a premium, especially since Darryl Sutter arrived here.

"Before Darryl came, our thoughts were only about making the playoffs," Conroy said. "Then again, that's when Colorado was winning the division every year. Didn't they do it eight or nine or 10 years in a row? (It was nine).

"Darryl came in and said, 'Enough's enough. We want to win the division and need to win more division games.'

"Now, winning the division is the goal."

In the past four seasons, the Flames have won one Northwest regular-season crown, in 2005-06, the same year they happened to sport the best intra-divisional record.

They've been close to having the best mark in the other seasons, so it's not hard to find out what it takes to get over that final hump.

"(Flames head coach) Mike (Keenan) has the same mind-set as Darryl -- he wants us to have home-ice advantage," said the veteran Conroy.

"He wants every Game 7 in our rink and points out that was the difference for the Rangers (when they won the 1994 Stanley Cup title.)"

Tonight is a chance for the Flames to build on their strong division record, and it comes against the team they've dominated for a long time.

The Flames have won all three meetings this season against the Wild, albeit two in overtime.

Their all-time home record against Minnesota consists of 17 wins, two losses, three ties and one shootout loss. In the last 15 games, the Flames have 13 wins, one loss and one tie.

It's also the last of the divisional games until the final two weeks of the regular season, with five of eight games against Northwest teams.

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NORTHWEST PASSAGE

INTRA-DIVISIONAL RECORDS THIS SEASON

Calgary 11-5-2

Vancouver 9-4-3

Minnesota 6-6-2

Edmonton 7-6-3

Colorado 7-9-0

FLAMES RECORD THIS SEASON AGAINST THE NORTHWEST

Vancouver: 2-1-2

Minnesota: 3-0-0

Edmonton: 2-2-0

Colorado: 4-2-0

2007-08 (FACED EACH TEAM 8 TIMES)

Flames: 16-12-4 (Best: Colorado -- 20-10-2, 42 points, finished 2nd in NW; NW champ: Minnesota -- 17-11-4, 38 points)

2006-07 (FACED EACH TEAM 8 TIMES)

Flames: 17-12-3 (Best: Minnesota -- 18-8-6, 42 points, finished 2nd in NW; NW champ: Vancouver -- 16-6-3, 35 points)

2005-06 (FACED EACH TEAM 8 TIMES)

Flames: 20-8-4 (Flames had best record in NW, 44 points and won division)

2003-04 (FACED EACH TEAM 6 TIMES)

Flames: 11-7-6 (Best: Colorado -- 12-7-5, 29 points, finished 2nd in NW; NW champ: Vancouver -- 10-7-7, 27 points)


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