Game No. 25: A kinder, gentler Northwest

Finally a game people can get up for.

This is more like it, right?

It’s a game against an opponent Flames fans can actually care about. Sure it’s nice seeing them play the league’s stars like Ilya Kovalchuk and Mike Richards and Chris Pronger and Marian Gaborik and Sidney Crosby and… someone from the Wild recently. But nothing’s better than a good old fashioned rivalry game.

Full disclosure: I no longer hate the Canucks as I once did. They’re just not the same bunch of borderline criminals (Bertuzzi, Jovanovski) and crybabies (Naslund) and punks (Cooke, Ruutu) they were in the middle of the decade and, particularly, in the 2003-04 season.

You might not like Ryan Kesler very much, and for good reason, but as an American I am contractually obligated to like anyone that almost toppled Canada on their home ice in the Olympics. The only guy on the team I even vaguely dislike is Alex Burrows, and even then, his impression of Marc Crawford makes it awful difficult to line up against him. God help me, I even like the Sedin twins. A lot.

But the Canucks? The most annoying thing about them these days is their fans, who are awful goddamn smug for supporting a team that has never in its history been very good. And the current campaign is no different.

This year they really should have been one of the best teams in the West, if not the whole NHL, and yet here they are, thoroughly mediocre, one point above a non-playoff spot and bunched in with several teams, like Columbus, St. Louis and Anaheim, that you would deem pretty unimpressive. Nonetheless, they’re a point out of the division lead because the Northwest is just about the worst division in the league.

The Flames are pretty bad right now, sure, but no one thought they’d be good either. A win here tonight against a team they pretty well dislike would put them just three points back of Vancouver and four back of Colorado for best in the Northwest, if you can believe that. But that’s what happens when No.1 in the division is the lowest point total by a leader league-wide.

Hell, of the five teams in the Northwest, only Colorado would even make the playoffs in the East right now, and they’d be the No. 8 seed.

The point I’m trying to make, I guess, is that games like this are important for the Flames. When every team in the division stinks — and this year, do they ever! — every time out is a helluva chance to win a home ice spot.