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The Flames are focusing on a strong playoff run, whether they win their division or not. (Sun...

The Flames are focusing on a strong playoff run, whether they win their division or not. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

The Northwest Division banner would be a nice perk.

But it's no Stanley Cup -- and the division title comes with no guarantees of making that quest any easier.

Home-ice advantage is a big benefit over a seven-game series. The third seed would guarantee that for at least the first round, and the Calgary Flames still have their sights set on that perch.

In the end, it's not going to determine their fate this spring, however.

If they were disappointed after falling short in a 4-1 loss to the Canucks in Vancouver Tuesday a game statistics suggest the score should have been flipped they didn't show it much.

"I think it would be a big disappointment for us if we don't win the Stanley Cup. Whether or not you need to win the Northwest to do that, I don't know," said a hopeful Michael Cammalleri after the loss that left them in a tie for first place in the division, with the tiebreaker over the Canucks on their side.

"We're going to put every effort we can into winning it."

If they play the next two games the way they did against the Canucks, the results won't matter much.

It's all about how they perform in the playoffs, and the kind of effort the Flames put forward in Vancouver will go a long way towards getting them past the first round for the first time since the lockout.

Scrawled across the white board in red marker inside the visitors locker-room at GM Place were the words 'Stick Together.'

That's what they'll have to do with back-to-back games against the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow and Saturday.

Winning both would give them the Northwest Division regardless of what the Canucks do in their games against the Los Angeles Kings tonight and their season-ender against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.

Doing a pretty good job of sticking together in Vancouver, where they fired 47 shots at Roberto Luongo and carried most of the play until the final five minutes when the Canucks netted a pair to pull away and put the division in doubt for yet another few days, the Flames showed heart.

More heart than they have in months.

With injuries to key contributors on the blueline in Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich, rookies Adam Pardy and Matt Pelech managed to avoid being embarrassed by a skilled and hard-working Vancouver club that has been one of the best in the league since February.

Veterans Jim Vandermeer, Adrian Aucoin and Jordan Leopold -- and, yes, Dion Phaneuf has to be considered a veteran now, too -- took on most of the ice time.

Phaneuf was exposed on a couple of plays during his 30-plus minutes on the ice, but it's hard to blame the fans' favourite new scapegoat for a loss when the team did so much at the other end of the ice to deserve a win.

Giving it everything they've got with the finish line in sight would be beneficial for many reasons.

Gaining momentum and confidence for next week's foray into the opening round of the playoffs.

Proving to themselves they can succeed in spite of the rash of injuries that also includes second-line winger Rene Bourque, who is itching to return from a high ankle sprain.

Showing they are capable of the kind of consistency they'll need to convince anyone they are a Cup contender -- a point no one argued in January before their game regressed.

Sticking together in Vancouver was a good start.

Spoiling the Oilers hopes of playing spoiler against the Flames would be a great finish.

"It'll be fun going into Edmonton," said Cammalleri.

"They'll want to be spoilers the best they can, I know that."

He also knows the division title, or lack thereof, isn't going to define his team.

How they finish their playoff run will.

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LAST 10 CUP WINNERS

(With year, Cup winner and division finish that season)

2008 Detroit Red Wings 1st

2007 Anaheim Ducks 1st

2006 Carolina Hurricanes 1st

2005 Lockout season

2004 Tampa Bay Lightning 1st

2003 New Jersey Devils 1st

2002 Detroit Red Wings 1st

2001 Colorado Avalanche 1st

2000 New Jersey Devils 2nd

1999 Dallas Stars 1st

1998 Detroit Red Wings 2nd

1997 Detroit Red Wings 2nd


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