SUN Hockey Pool

Iggy wants bragging rights

Flames Jarome Iginla during a game against the Senators on March 3, 2009. (Andre Forget/SUN MEDIA)

Flames Jarome Iginla during a game against the Senators on March 3, 2009. (Andre Forget/SUN MEDIA)

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:10 PM ET

Jarome Iginla is as nice a person you'll meet.

But the Calgary Flames captain sure can be greedy at times.

Asked whether it was more important to go into the playoffs firing on all cylinders or having won the division title, Iginla's choice was both.

"I don't think it's all just about the division, but playing our best would probably lead to winning our division," he said. "I think our game's improved as a team the last 10 days and going in the right direction, which I think is the most important thing.

"But (the division title) is in our hands. We don't have to watch Vancouver. It's two games and we can win the division.

"I think they go hand-in-hand and we want both."

Those two games would be the home-and-home Battle of Alberta series which begins tonight in Edmonton against the Oilers.

The Flames are all too aware what's on the line. Tonight's clash is a biggie, and regardless of what happened in last night's Canucks game, winning in Edmonton will go a long way in relieving the pressure before tomorrow night's regular-season finale at the Saddledome.

Winning the Northwest crown means the No.-3 seed.

"It's a dangerous team," said Flames centre Craig Conroy. "Those are teams out (of the playoffs), playing for pride and want to do well, finish strong. I expect they're going to be at their best, playing relaxed. We have to be the more desperate team."

The Flames are desperate.

But that's just to ice a full roster. Already without a bevy of defencemen -- Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Mark Giordano and Rhett Warrener are all on the shelf -- Calgary practised without Dion Phaneuf yesterday.

Head coach Mike Keenan said Phaneuf's absence was to give him some rest. But the team summoned John Negrin from the minors and sent down forward Warren Peters, so it's a good bet Phaneuf's status is at best questionable.

Or maybe left-winger Rene Bourque is ready to return. Bourque didn't skate yesterday, but Keenan said the 21-goal scorer who has been out the last seven weeks has made big improvements.

"The only way you can look at it is whoever's in the lineup has to be able to play and produce," said defenceman Jordan Leopold.

"We're here to win hockey games, and it's as simple as that. It's a good opportunity for some of us, myself as well. I'm getting more ice time than with the big guys in the lineup and I have to play to my best abilities."

Still, this sets up a crazy scenario. The Flames could face their biggest rivals, with a division title on the line, using as few as 16 skaters.

If that's not enough, it would be with three rookie defencemen -- one who'd be playing just his second NHL game (Negrin) and another his fourth (Matt Pelech).

"The simplest advice to give to them is just relax," Leopold said. "It's easier said than done, but it's best to just play the game. You can't be over-thinking it. You played as a kid and at this level there's Xs and Os and systems, but in the scheme of things, you have to go have fun and just play.

"I'm excited for the challenge. It's a good opportunity for me. When I got traded here, I wasn't playing a lot in Colorado and now we have a shot at the Stanley Cup. It's very exciting."

The Flames aren't coming off a win, but their last game -- a 4-1 loss to Vancouver -- was as strong an outing as we've seen in a long time. They controlled every aspect of that game, but lost simply because Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo was at the peak of his game.

Replicating that performance would go a long way to ensuring a couple of wins against an Edmonton team that's turned to back-up netminder Jeff Drouin-Deslaruiers.

"We didn't get the result we wanted, but we did a lot of good things in that game and want to build on that," centre Olli Jokinen said of the Vancouver game.

"If we get 40-plus shots and play the way we did in Vancouver every single night, we like our chances."

The good news for Calgary is knowing what they need to do before they drop the puck.

With last night's Vancouver game in the books, Calgary will be aware whether a win tonight is to clinch the title or just to hold even with the Canucks in points and ahead with more victories.

Jokinen said his team doesn't need any extra motivation at this point.

"We had a huge game the other night in Vancouver and this game is even bigger. We control our own destiny," he said.

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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