DENVER - Hard to say what’s more fragile, the Colorado Avalanche confidence level or that thin sheet of ice keeping them from plummeting out of the playoffs.
An Everest-like climb by the Calgary Flames, capped by a big 2-1 win over the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center Friday night, has them tied for eighth place.
“We had an uphill battle. We knew that,” said winger David Moss, who assisted on Nigel Dawes’ opening goal.
“We needed to win this game if we wanted a chance at the playoffs.”
Just how massive a hill have they scaled? The Avs had a nine-point lead before their last meeting March 17.
“We knew they were a fragile team,” said Flames winger Eric Nystrom. “We got on them early. We’ve got to keep the pressure on, keep playing well, and make sure they’re feeling the heat.
“I think they are at this point.”
When Dawes roofed the puck over Craig Anderson’s glove hand early in the second period to give the Flames the first goal of the game, you could almost hear the team psychiatrist’s cash register pop open.
Miikka Kiprusoff was money in the third period, which had Avs forwards shaking their heads.
Rene Bourque tipped Cory Sarich’s point shot past Anderson to give the Flames a two-goal lead early in the third, which lasted almost seven minutes before the Avalanche showed some fight.
Bringing some life back to the war, rookie T.J. Galiardi worked his way to the top of the crease and took a feed from Chris Stewart to beat Kiprusoff for the only time on the night.
With their third straight victory, the Flames appear to have all the momentum. The Avs own tiebreakers with more wins and a better record in head-to-head battles this season. They also have a game in hand, but the way they’re playing, those playoff tickets that hit the market Saturday morning in Denver might become a collector’s item.
Winning just one of their last eight games, the Avalanche are snowballing downhill.
“You’re looking at the standings, and sometimes it’s a snowball you can’t stop,” Nystrom said when asked about the momentum shift.
“Right now, we’re going in the right direction and they’re going the other direction. We’ve got to make sure we’re keeping it that way.”
It won’t be easy, and the Flames are aware of that with a game Sunday against the Blackhawks in Chicago, then a home date with the San Jose Sharks before closing with a visit from the Minnesota Wild and trek to the coast to battle the Canucks in Vancouver.
“We’ll relish tonight. But we’ve got a big game (Sunday) against Chicago,” said Dawes.
“It’s nice (to win). It kind of puts a little bit more pressure on (the Avs) now that we’re right there. It feels good. That’s what we came here to do. But work’s not over.”
Moss agrees his team can’t get too caught up in the excitement of drawing even.
“It’s nice to catch up, but they still have a game in hand and the tiebreakers,” Moss said. “We’ve got four tough games left, and we’re gonna need all the points.”
Maybe not, the way the Avalanche have been playing. But better safe than sorry.
And Nystrom’s not sorry their opponent is struggling down the stretch.
“It’s tough,” he said with a grin. “Hopefully, it keeps going that way for them.”