SUN Hockey Pool

Northwest Division's best go head-to-head

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

Nothing like a first-place showdown to give a mid-December battle a little extra oomph.

That's what tonight's clash between the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche shapes up to be.

However, that's just part of the equation that should fuel the Flames when they hit the ice at the Pepsi Center.

Both the Flames and Avalanche are tied atop the Northwest Division with 42 points -- Calgary has one more win and three games in hand, therefore holds first place -- so tonight's winner will own some bragging rights.

But Calgary's skaters have more motivation from other aspects immediately facing them.

While the Flames are coming off Friday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Avs head into this game on the heels of a 2-1 shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning the same night.

Even bigger is the season series, which could have a big bearing on playoff position down the road.

Colorado has twice come to the Saddledome and skated away with 3-2 wins.

Think that provides motivation?

"Yeah. I think it does," said Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. "We're fighting for first spot and they've beat us a couple of times at home. I think we're going to be a pretty hungry team."

Not only did the Flames lose those games, but the manner in which they lost them should stick in their collective craw.

In the first clash, Oct. 28, the Flames scored in the first minute and then took a 2-0 lead at the 70-second mark of the opening frame. Instead of riding that wave of momentum, they blew the lead by the end of the first period and surrendered the winner five minutes into the third on a night they surrendered a season-low 14 shots against.

Less than a month later, Calgary fell behind early but took a 2-1 lead in the second period. Less than a minute later, however, the Avs pulled even. They scored again 66 seconds later for the victory.

"Both games, we had chances to win," Kiprusoff said. "They didn't shoot the puck much, but they used their chances pretty well. We have to just play our own game, not worry about them too much.

"When we play our own game, we're a pretty tough team to beat."

That appears to be the battle cry ringing through the Flames dressing room.

On the surface, it may seem cocky for the Flames to say they can take any opponent if they execute the gameplan, but that's the kind of swagger head coach Brent Sutter wants to instill in his charges.

After all, if you don't believe you can win any game, how do you expect it to happen?

"It's a huge game for us," said left-winger Curtis Glencross before they headed out of town. "They beat us last time here. We weren't happy about it.

"Our problem is we beat ourselves. As long as we play the way we can play, no team can really touch us."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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