SUN Hockey Pool

Flames clinch playoff spot

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

DALLAS -- No champagne was uncorked.

No high fives. No celebrations.

The Calgary Flames clinched a playoff spot with last night's 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars, but to say the jubilation was subdued would be an understatement.

It was non-existent.

"We were aware of it, but that's a step on the way to another one," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "At the same time, we do know it's hard work and a lot goes into the season, and doing it five years in a row feels good, but we didn't even talk about it.

"I'm sure we'll talk about it on the bus, but our goal is more than that."

True, the first quest is to claim the Northwest Division title and the second is to hoist the Stanley Cup, but you can't do either without punching a ticket to the playoff party.

Considering how much disappointment has surrounded the team lately thanks to the blown double-digit lead on the Vancouver Canucks in the standings and a horrible March performance, you'd think they would enjoy having something to celebrate.

"Oh, we're pleased about it," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan. "Going into the game, it wasn't our focus. Our focus was to continue to get better.

"We have bigger goals ahead of us. With five games remaining, it's still within our grasp -- we'll continue to work at it -- the division title, and we'll see how it all unfolds."

At least this year, the Flames did it with a win, and not because another team lost.

And while their detractors would call the victory a nail-biter against a struggling Stars team besieged by injuries, to them, it was a workmanlike effort.

"That was a good road game," Keenan said. "We followed the discipline we needed for a road game. We didn't give them too many out-numbered situations. We gave them some outside shots, but we had a fairly disciplined approach, which I'm happy about."

The disappointment of the night was losing yet another player. Defenceman Robyn Regehr left the game early in the second period with a "lower-body" injury.

"Tough to see him go out," Iginla said. "He's such a big part of our team, especially on the road when they're physical games and you're trying to shut down the other team's top players. There's no better than him in that type of game, but our 'D' played great."

Plus, they received stellar goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff.

Kiprusoff stopped 29 shots before the American Airlines Center crowd of 17,106 --maybe the biggest in the final seconds of the first period when the score was tied and Brendan Morrison was alone from point-blank range.

For good measure, Kiprusoff slammed the door in the scoreless third period.

"They had some momentum at the start of the period and were looking for a big push at home," Iginla said. "Kipper played great."

The lone blemish was Fabian Brunnstrom's breakaway tally three minutes into the game, but Iginla drew the Flames even midway through the opening period with his second goal in as many tilts.

Craig Conroy's second-period deflection of Dion Phaneuf's point-shot stood up as the winner.

From that point, the Flames put in a lunch-bucket effort like you need to have to go far in the playoffs.

"Is that what it looked like?" asked an enthusiastic Eric Nystrom. "They're so good with their structure -- they make it really hard to skate through the neutral zone, so we had to chip away and work for our chances. That's what happened, and it's a huge win.

Now, the Flames (44-27-6) can concentrate on the second item on their list, the Northwest Division crown.

They are on top of the division after last night's win.

While they travelled to Minnesota for tonight's clash vs. the Wild, the Vancouver Canucks lost 6-5 last night in a shootout to the Anaheim Ducks.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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