Canucks find NW passage

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

For the first time in 2009, someone other than the Calgary Flames lead the Northwest Division.

The Vancouver Canucks (93 points) beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in overtime last night to overtake the Flames (92).

When they wake up this morning, the Flames can open this paper and find themselves out of the driver's seat and in fourth spot in the NHL's Western Conference.

"We could wake up June 8 and be the Stanley Cup champions," said Flames winger Michael Cammalleri.

"Seriously, that's the first thought that comes to my head when you say that. Things change so quick in this business. They change shift-to-shift -- literally shift-to-shift -- let alone day-to-day.

"And then none of these conversations matter."

At one point, the Flames had a 13-point lead in the division when the Canucks struggled without starting goalie Roberto Luongo for two months.

So, is this a choke?

"Errr ... are you serious?" said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "You must be reading the paper.

"Well, we haven't been playing well the last month or so. That's what it's come down to.

"I don't know how you want to paint that picture. The basics are we haven't played very well."

The Flames have lost eight of the past 12 games, opening the door to the Canucks, who have won eight of their last 10 to take over.If the team wants to blame anybody, they need to look in the mirror, but defenceman Adrian Aucoin refuses to use the 'c' word.

"I wouldn't say choke," Aucoin said. "We haven't played up to par. We've been on a roller-coaster.

"We've had some good games and some bad games, and it's not the way we want to play.

"Hopefully, we're getting it out of system, now. Really, the teams behind us have played really well, all things considered."

Four of the Flames' final six games are on the road, but five of those opponents are currently on the outside of playoff positions.

But the six outings come in three sets of back-to-back nights, and the Flames are 2-8-1 in the back half of those meetings.

Being the Flames play the Canucks in the only matchup with a contender means all is not lost as of yet, although that meeting comes on the back half of consecutive games.

The Flames visit the Dallas Stars tomorrow and the Minnesota Wild Friday before returning home to face the Los Angeles Kings Monday at the Saddledome.

The meeting in Vancouver goes Tuesday before they finish with a home-and-home against the Edmonton Oilers.

Being out of the division lead doesn't bother Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who points out a sweep would give the team third place.

"It's still one point," Iginla said of the Canucks' lead.

"We have to win our games and put a few streaks together. We have to go win on the road. As a group of players, we still look at this as a challenge.

"We still feel we can get it done, but we will still try to improve. I know it's only two weeks, but it's still too early to be watching other games and hoping for results.

"It's still under our control, and it's our job to go out and win games."

Newcomer Olli Jokinen is fresh to a playoff atmosphere because he's never made the post-season in his career.

So he downplays the race for the division because the Flames will play beyond the regular season regardless.

"The message from the coaching staff right now is we'd rather be in this race than the race to be in the playoffs," Jokinen said. "We have to think positive.

"Our goal is to be first place in the division. We've got six games to go. We can't really worry how Vancouver is playing."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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