SUN Hockey Pool

Everything the hard way

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Did you really believe the Calgary Flames would wrap up a month of misery with a pretty little bow Tuesday night in Vancouver?

With that lineup, could anyone really have fathomed a Flames win at GM Place to clinch a Northwest Division title many see as crucial to the club's first-round success?

Sorry, but if the Flames have proven one thing this year, it's that they never do things the conventional way.

Which explains how a team with an anemic offence of late and a battered blueline corps somehow managed to come up with a stunning attack perhaps only Roberto Luongo would be capable of stifling.

Throwing 47 shots his way in a vain attempt to end Vancouver's nagging penchant for persistence, the Flames ... actually looked good.

Even though they lost, there were plenty of encouraging signs in a 4-1 loss that could actually serve as evidence the Flames aren't necessarily going to enter the post-season like Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking.

Fact is, they showed up.

Far too often on the hind-end of back-to-back adventures they've looked like, well, hind-ends. For proof, see their 2-10-2 record on the second night.

The good news is the NHL rarely schedules playoff games on successive eves.

The bad news is, despite their solid play, the Flames' best wasn't nearly good enough to beat the Canucks, meaning their two-game punctuation on the regular season against Edmonton starting tomorrow will weigh heavily on whether the Flames start the playoffs at home or on the road.

Against Chicago or Columbus.

Oh sure, the last time the Flames' powerplay scored the New York Islanders were still mathematically eligible for the playoffs. Going 0-for-37 is indeed a glaring reminder the club's top guns need to be better in every way.

But what's of greater concern are the compounding injuries Calgary has avoided for more than four years.

Although it's that time of year a team won't say anything but whether a player is hurt north or south of the jockstrap, Robyn Regehr's ailment is apparently an MCL issue that will keep him sidelined until the second round at the earliest.

Cory Sarich is on crutches with what is believed to be a broken bone in his foot, and whispers suggest he'd miss at least one and as many as three rounds.

The way Dion Phaneuf is playing has some wondering if he's secretly nursing an injury despite logging a remarkable 30 minutes Tuesday.

Many people are putting a ton of hope in the imminent return of Rene Bourque and maybe even Rhett Warrener -- who hasn't played all year -- to help the floundering club. Scary.

Regardless, the important thing is the Flames showed serious character in Vancouver, which is why there's still hope this club is capable of doing damage in the playoffs.

Granted, few others share such optimism.

Hey, at the very least once the playoffs start they'll have the luxury of being able to ice a full squad of 18 skaters without worrying about nagging salary-cap constraints.

Tied with Vancouver and holders of the tiebreaker with two games left apiece against non-playoff squads, the Flames now have the perfect opportunity to build a tiny bit of momentum en route to a division crown.

Or, they could take the final weekend to demonstrate what many already believe -- the Flames are sitting ducks.

It's a fool's game to predict which tact they'll take. But everyone will be watching.


Videos

Photos