Flames keep playoff hopes alive with win over Avalanche


The suddenly spry Calgary Flames snapped a two-game losing streak with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night.<br>


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DENVER — Rene Bourque realizes some Calgary Flames’ fans — perhaps many — have already counted their team out of the race to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Hold off on writing obituaries, Bourque says. The Flames aren’t dead. At least not yet.

“They’re not true fans if they’re thinking that,” Bourque said Wednesday night. “We still have a lot in us.”

Bourque and the Flames served official notice Wednesday they’re still alive and kicking with a convincing 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.

Coming off soul-draining losses to Vancouver and Detroit, the Flames outmuscled and out-worked the Avalanche from the opening faceoff.

Bourque led the way with two goals — one short-handed, the other on the power play. The fourth line chipped in yet again with a blue-collar goal by Eric Nystrom.

In his second start as a Flame, Vesa Toskala deftly turned away 32 shots to give his new teammates their first victory over Colorado in seven attempts.

His strongest body of work came with a flurry of stops on rookie sensation Matt Duchene. He also did the splits to stop Chris Durno on a breakaway.

“Our playoffs started tonight,” Toskala said. “Every game is huge now. I wouldn’t say must-win. But big win.”

Call it an all-around successful night for an NHL club fighting to stay alive.

“It was a huge road win, obviously,” said head coach Brent Sutter. “We were solid.

“We’re going to have to play well from here on in, because every game is a big, big game for us.”

With the win, the Flames pull within one point of Detroit and four points of Nashville in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Red Wings have a game in hand.

With a schedule that can only be described as treacherous, the next step of the uphill climb for Calgary is slated for Friday night against the high-flying San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks absolutely paddled the Flames back on Jan. 18 to the tune of 9-1.

“We know what we have to do,” Bourque said. “We have to be prepared to play the game.

“We’ve got to focus on that first period and try to come out with the lead.”

The Flames did just that against the Avalanche. Bourque gave the fans back home reason to believe just 3:12 into the proceedings. The Calgary winger danced in all alone and ripped the puck over the glove of Craig Anderson for his fourth short-handed goal of the season.

“We got a lucky break short-handed on that breakaway I had,” Bourque said. “We got a nice bounce.”

The trio of Nystrom, Curtis Glencross and Jamal Mayers technically makes up the fourth line. On this night, the name was a misleading due to the quality of work by the grinding trio.

On a one shift, Glencross chipped the puck to Mayers. The former Toronto Maple Leaf powered to the front of the net on the wraparound. Nystrom batted it in to give Calgary a 2-1 lead at 7:33 of the first period.

“That’s the way we have to score goals,” Nystrom said. “Just driving to the front of the net. We have to put pucks there and cash in around the net.

“They’re great goals. They still count, right?”

Bourque added another for the travellers at 6:55 of the second period with a power-play marker from the side of the net.

“Our power play has to produce for us,” Sutter said. “You’ve got to read situations and make things happen.”

Durno replied for Colorado in a goalmouth scrabble at 13:44 of the second period. Milan Hejduk scored with 32 seconds remaining in the game to make things interesting.

But the Flames survived.

“For them, it was a do-or-die situation,” Hejduk said. “If they lost tonight, they would probably be out of it.

“They battle hard. We knew that before the game started.”

And after the game ended.

“If you let the gap get too big with only 12 games left, it’s tough,” Toskala said. “We’re only one point behind Detroit, so it’s huge.”

We’re talking definite signs of life.

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