The Calgary Flames got a close-up look at how tough the playoffs will be if they manage to grab a spot in the wild Western Conference.
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NHL leading scorer Daniel Sedin had two goals and an assist in the Vancouver Canucks’ 4-3 victory over the Flames on Saturday night.
In a clash between the league’s top two teams since Christmas, the game took on a playoff feel. It was especially important for the Flames, who are locked in a desperate fight for a postseason spot in the congested West.
Vancouver entered with a 16-point lead over the second-place Flames in the Northwest Division and seven-point edge on Philadelphia for first in the league.
”We went through a little bit of a bump in the road there, but we’re back on the right track,” forward Ryan Kesler said.
The Canucks took a 4-3 lead with 16 seconds left in the second period when their No. 1 ranked power play struck for the second time in two chances.
Kesler beat Alex Tanguay on a faceoff in the Flames end, drawing the puck back to defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. His shot through a crowd caromed sharply off Kesler in front and went right to Sedin, who scored his second goal of the period.
”Every player has a few buildings where they feel at home and this was a tough building for me for the first four, five years in my career, but the last little while it’s been a good building for us,” Sedin said.
Sedin’s 37th goal was a career high, topping the 36 he scored in the 2006-07 season. It was the third assist of the period for Ehrhoff, whose three-point night tied a career high.
Kesler and Alex Burrows also scored for Vancouver (45-16-9). The win capped off a 5-0 road trip for the Canucks, who’ve regained their form after alternating wins and losses through most of February.
Both Daniel and brother Henrik, who had two assists Saturday, built five-game point streaks during the trip. They combined for 19 points.
”Before the trip, we were struggling putting pucks in the net, so it was nice to be able to score a few goals,” said Daniel Sedin, who had five goals and five assists. Henrik had one goal and eight assists.
Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan and David Moss had goals for the Flames (36-26-9), who lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Jan. 3 and 5.
The Flames are in the top eight in the West, but barely. Nashville’s ninth, one point back with two games in hand. Two points back with three games in hand are the 10th-place Anaheim Ducks.
”We weren’t good enough defensively, and the top line made us pay,” Moss said.
Calgary’s best chance to tie the game in the third came late in the period, but the Flames couldn’t capitalize with the man advantage.
Calgary captain Jarome Iginla led a 3-on-1 rush earlier in the period, but his centering pass caromed off the skate of Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis and slid harmlessly into the corner.
”To be up 2-0 is a great start on a Saturday night against these guys at home, but we know they have a lot of firepower,” Iginla said. ”They got that important first power-play goal to settle it down because we were in control until then.”
The Flames led 2-1 after the first period, but Sedin tied it at 9:46 of the second on defensive lapse by Calgary. With the puck in the corner, Sedin skated through the slot uncovered and rifled home a pass from Henrik.
”You can’t count on the same players every night, but you need your best to be your best and the twins were real good,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
Calgary regained the lead 66 seconds later off a mad scramble at the side of the Canucks net. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo couldn’t corral the bouncing puck, and Moss eventually jammed it over the line.
Luongo, who finished with 20 saves, was visibly upset, feeling he had the puck covered.
Vancouver tied it again at 15:41 when Burrows neatly deflected Daniel Sedin’s low slap shot over goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for his 20th goal.
Calgary entered the night without a goal in 111 minutes, 19 seconds, but that drought ended at 2:14 of the first period on a highlight-reel effort from Backlund.
The 21-year-old Swede stripped the puck from Mikael Samuelsson and broke in alone on Luongo, zipping a backhand into the top corner. His eighth of the season snapped a 14-game goal-less streak.
The Flames went ahead 2-0 at 3:32 when Stajan knocked a rebound past Luongo for his sixth goal and first in 12 games.
”The first five minutes of the game, we weren’t good, but it speaks to our leadership that we didn’t panic,” Kesler said. ”We knew what we had to do. We knew the challenge that we were up against. From there on out, we controlled the tempo and the pace of the game.”
Vancouver got on the scoreboard at 8:48 when Kesler snapped an 11-game drought with his 34th.
Kiprusoff, who finished with 28 saves, was back after getting a night off in Calgary’s 3-0 loss at Phoenix on Thursday. That ended a run of 22 consecutive starts.
NOTES: Calgary D Jay Bouwmeester played in his 495th consecutive game. The NHL’s leading active ironman, Bouwmeester tied Karlis Skrastins for the longest ironman streak for a defenseman.