The memories of the last time the Vancovuer Canucks and their fans invaded the Scotiabank Saddledome make me sad. A close game through 40 got blown open by the NHL’s best team, eventually ending in a 7-2 Vancouver win. With three games on the coast since then, and two more Canucks wins, the teams meet again tonight in Calgary (8 pm, CBC and Sportsnet Radio FAN 960).
It’s really F’in Game Day, with Calgary needing to bounce back from a regulation loss on Thursday night in Phoenix, and Calgary needing to beat Vancouver…period. The Flames fell to eighth in the Western Conference after games last night, with Dallas and Los Angeles both passing them; they also now are felling the pressure from a suddenly hot Ducks team, who smashed the Avalanche last night. So, the stakes are high for Calgary as they kick off a crucial three game homestand against the probable Presidents Trophy winners.
One slight change for the Calgary Flames at morning skate, with Freddy Modin not taking part. Assistant Coach Dave Lowry called it a maintenance day, but newly recalled Lance Bouma was skating on the fourth line with Mikael Backlund and Niklas Hagman. Bouma, who played in five games with the big team earliers this year, is a gametime decision. One things is true: Modin hasn’t done much of anything since joining the team, with the word "unimpressive" being thrown around in an accurate way.
Backlund was really good on Thursday night against the Coyotes, showing a nice ability to take the puck to the scoring areas and also showing some offensive creativity on a line with Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos. All three were in the black when it came to Kent’s scoring chances, and all three were very good that night. Speaking of Jackman…he will play tonight after taking a puck off the foot in Phoenix. The guy seems to be indestructable, suffering three "serious looking" injuries over the last month or so, and coming back to play the next night. Here are lines and pairings from morning skate:
Alex Tanguay-David Moss-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman
Niklas Hagman-Mikael Backlund-Lance Bouma
Robyn Regehr-Jay Bouwmeester
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Anton Babchuk-Steve Staios
After sitting out on Thursday snapping his consecutive start string at 21, Miikka Kiprusoff returns between the Calgary pipes. Henrik Karlsson played well against Phoenix, and certainly none of the loss falls on his shoulders. Speaking of consecutive starts, make it 495 for Jay Bouwmeester, which will tie the record among defencemen.
Vancouver is the best team in the Western Conference, which is a fair statement by looking at their team and their record. I think they’re the cream of the crop period in the NHL, and watching them play is very entertaining. Many call Vancouver’s game against San Jose on Thursday one of the best this season, and I can’t disagree. The eventual Canucks shootout win was thrilling from start to finish, and the third period was two elite teams going head to head. Great stuff.
Make it four straight wins for Vancouver and a nine point cushion for top spot in the West, so whoever sneaks into the final playoff spot is going to have an extremely daunting test ahead of them this postseason. I know a lot of people think the Canucks are prime for an upset this year, and I just don’t see it. They’re an extremely well coached team with outstanding depth, a great top end, a very strong blueline and game winning goaltending from their starter or backup. It’s as complete a team as there can be in this league.
One injury note from Canucks practice, as Tanner Glass will sit out with an upper body injury, making way for Steve Tambellini. It’s a nice luxury to have, as Glass could play but with no real urgency needed standings-wise, the team has the luxury of sitting players out. Otherwise, it’s the same deep lineup tonight, with the top line being put in heavily offensive situations thanks to the way Head Coach Alain Vigneault utilizes his second and third lines, centered by Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra. Here are lines and pairings:
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows
Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson
Raffi Torres-Manny Malhotra-Jannik Hansen
Chris Higgins-Maxim Lapierre-Jeff Tambellini
Dan Hamhuis-Sami Salo
Keith Ballard-Christian Ehrhoff
Aaron Rome-Chris Tanev
Corey Schneider got the start in San Jose, so it’s expected Roberto Luongo will go tonight.
Calgary’s been close with Vancouver in their last two meetings, taking a shootout win and being handed a regulation loss. The Flames weren’t bad Thursday in Phoenix, but they need to be better, against the Canucks or against anyone else. With 12 games remaining this season, they’re going to need a win or two against good teams…even if they run the table in their five games against bottom feeders.