Big lead slipping away

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

ATLANTA -- The object in the rear-view mirror is starting to loom closer and closer.

One of the great witticisms in sport may be Satchel Paige's adage, "Never look behind you. Someone might be gaining," but the Calgary Flames may not be able to keep their eyes from looking back any longer.

The Flames still have an eight-point lead on Vancouver in the Northwest Division title chase after blowing a sure-bet game in Atlanta with a 5-2 defeat to the Thrashers yesterday afternoon, but the Canucks now have two games in hand.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're eight points up. Those games in hand don't mean anything until they play them," said Flames left winger Eric Nystrom. "We still have a lot of hockey to play. We just have to play a lot better than we did this game and last game because they haven't been good efforts."

Calgary started its season-high seven-game road swing with a pair of victories, but have since dropped games in Carolina and Atlanta. Up next are contests against the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings, two first-place teams, so the makings of a losing skid is right there.

Vancouver has won 12 of 14 and is showing no signs of slowing down.

"We know where they are," centre Craig Conroy said. "There's nothing we can do about them, but we've got to bounce back and win our games.

"We put ourselves eight up and they have three games in hand, but we can only control whether we win, and that's what we've got to do against New Jersey. It has to be a solid team effort. We have to buckle down and get it done.

"I'm not worried. You're going to have ups and downs, that's what it's all about, and now we've got to get back on the upswing."

And fast.

"We're in a tough race, we're in a tough division," said head coach Mike Keenan. "They're on a roll -- I think they've lost one game since they defeated us and are building some momentum. We're going to have to come up with some points."


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