SUN Hockey Pool

Flames livin' on the edge

STEVE MACFARLANE, CQMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:14 PM ET

Plenty of hype surrounds Sunday’s Heritage Classic.

It’s a massive event. History in the making. The first NHL outdoor game in Calgary.

Somehow lost in the shuffle to maybe everyone but the actual players and coaches involved is the fact two points are on the line.

A huge two points — not that they’ll tell you any different about any game the rest of the way.

But with the way the Western Conference playoff picture is being painted, third and 10th place separated by just four points heading into Wednesday night’s action, the hype really is on the ice and not what’s going on around it when the Flames meet the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium.

The Flames have been on fire yet still find themselves above the playoff equator one night, below it the next.

Their incredible run over the last six weeks got them back into the mix, but plenty of work lies ahead of them, and no fewer than 10 teams are fighting it out for the last six spots behind the division winners.

Not only do they need to continue their hot streak, they need other teams to start or continue stumbling.

While helping themselves, the Flames haven’t been getting much assistance from squads like the Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

Even the Columbus Blue Jackets are clinging to life.

The Wild and Kings are the biggest threats to spoil the Flames’ season after a remarkable turnaround.

Of those below the border Wednesday, they were the hottest within striking distance.

The Kings have a wicked one-two punch between the pipes with Jonathan Quick and backup Jonathan Bernier, and while they’re looking for scoring help up front, they boast some serious balance with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams all top-line talents but playing on different lines right now.

Their back end is also extremely strong with Drew Dougthy and Willie Mitchell leading the way and Jack Johnson having a stellar season.

With defenceman Marek Zidlicky nearing a return from rehabbing a shoulder injury, the Wild are looking at adding some more offence from the blueline. That will only help a team getting contributions from all over to remain in the hunt.

Just behind them in the standings, the defending Stanley Cup champs lurk like rabid possoms who could bite at any time.

They’ve been ice cold lately but still have the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp leading a dangerous offence, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook their stalwarts on defence.

Other teams that haven’t been able to separate themslves from the pack but find themselves in the driver’s seat include the Sharks, Predators, Ducks, Coyotes and slumping Stars.

The hottest of those are the Sharks, Ducks and Coyotes — any one of which could end up as the Pacific Division champions.

Ilya Bryzgalov has been unbeatable for the Coyotes recently, and their unassuming roster is proving last year’s playoff charge was no fluke.

The Sharks are starting to bare their teeth again, and that is bad news for those looking to gain on them. There’s no telling what they can do if their stars stay hot down the stretch.

Despite their star goalie battling fatigue, the Ducks have been dynamite thanks to a strong top-six forward group and under-rated defence in front of backup goalie Curtis McElhinney.

Plenty of head-to-head battles between them all remain.

Only those who stay hot or re-ignite their play the rest of the way will survive the cut come April.


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