SUN Hockey Pool

Flames punishment a trip to the Coca-Cola Museum

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

ATLANTA -- The punishment received by the Calgary Flames for losing so miserably in Carolina was a visit to the Coca-Cola Museum.

Or maybe a tour of CNN.

Who knows, it could have meant hitting the links -- temperature yesterday in Atlanta was on the better side of 20C -- a shopping trip, a chance to check out a movie or just some old-fashioned relaxing.

Yep, it was a 'recovery day' in hockey lingo. To the rest of the world, that means a day off. Let the debate begin whether it was deserved.

Truth is, it was.

Despite the woeful performance Friday night against the Hurricanes, giving the players a break was the best move for the Flames coaching staff. Having to hit the ice for a practice at the Duluth IceForum -- a scenic (we think) 42-km trip from the club's downtown hotel northeast on Veterans Parkway -- would have done more harm than good.

Three games in four nights, with the excitement and emotional drain of trade-deadline day in the middle of it all, took a toll on the club.

But that very well is the last pass they'll receive on this trip, which still has four of the seven parts remaining, including today's tilt against the 29th-place Thrashers at Philips Arena. Quite possibly, it's the last loss to a weak team that could possibly be shrugged off.

Certainly if the Flames expect to keep hold of their spot in the Western Conference standings. Calgary's lead atop the Northwest Division, and the No.-3 seed for the second season that comes with it, was at 10 prior to the Vancouver Canucks playing host to San Jose last night.

Seems secure, right?

Might as well start printing playoff tickets with home-ice advantage in the opening round, right? Maybe not.

Certainly not if the Flames have a whack of dismal outings like the one against the Hurricanes. Even a middling record makes it no sure thing.

Consider Calgary posts a point-per-game pace over the final 17 games -- 8-8-1. It adds up to 101 points. Hey, Minnesota won the Northwest banner last season with 99 points.

Vancouver would need a 14-5 record to vault the Flames and score 102 points.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Certainly not.

Before swimming with the Sharks on last night's Hockey Night in Canada finale, the Canucks were riding a remarkable 11-2 run since the start of February. Of their final 18 games, Vancouver faces only four teams who were sitting in a playoff spot prior to last night's action.

Of the 14 contests against teams outside the Western Conferences' elite eight, four are against the last-place Colorado Avalanche and three are against the Los Angeles Kings, who sit 13th. A couple of clashes with St. Louis and another tilt with Phoenix are also in there.

Of course there are no guaranteed wins, but the chances of running another long winning streak seems realistic, if not likely, for the Canucks.

By comparison, the Flames are looking at a tough stretch to finish the season.

The oddsmakers will call the Flames favourite for today's game against Atlanta, even if it's a city the Flames have failed to win in since the Thrashers came into existence, but then it becomes quite difficult.

Of Calgary's final 17 games, eight are against non-playoff teams -- including a back-to-back set with Edmonton to finish off the year, and you know the Oilers won't just hand over a pair of wins in the Battle of Alberta.

That means nine are against playoff clubs, including the following two on this trek, Tuesday against Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey and a couple of days later at Central Division-leading Detroit -- one of two games left against the Red Wings.

Other games on the docket include a pair against Dallas, along with Pittsburgh, Columbus, San Jose and Vancouver.

The Flames had better have enjoyed their rest. Plenty of work remains to be done.

STRETCH DRIVE

CALGARY FLAMES

Games remaining: 17

Home: 7; Road: 10

Versus playoff teams: 9

Versus non-playoff teams: 8

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Games remaining: 19

Home: 10; Road: 9

Versus playoff teams: 5

Versus non-playoff teams: 14


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