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The tight Northwest Division race fuels Calgary Flames fire

The Flames are a stellar 14-5-0 at home, including a recent 10-game win streak. However, the club has dropped two of its previous four games at the Pengrowth Saddledome, including a 3-2 decision to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. Incidently, both of Calgary's two recent home losses have come against the Canucks.

Calgary is in the midst of a six-game homestand and desperately needs to reel off some wins given that just four points separate all five squads in the Northwest Division standings, all of whom boast records above .500. Another consideration, too, is the Flames are a dismal 5-10-4 on the road.

The Flames hope to return to their winning ways at the Saddledome on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.

"It's very important for us not only to play well in our division, but to make sure we take advantage of the home games," said forward Alex Tanguay. "We've been playing well at home except for the last couple games against Vancouver.

"Just taking care of the next three here at home would be huge."

Forward Tony Amonte agrees.

"Our focus now is getting ready the Panthers and then going from there," he said. "We've got to get back on track here in the Saddledome."

After the Panthers, the Flames face the Dallas Stars on Saturday followed by a Tuesday night contest against the Northwest Division-leading Minnesota North Stars (21-17-2).

"I've never been in a race like this," Amonte said. "One team just hasn't stepped up and pulled away. We're hoping it's going to be us here in the near future."

Added Tanguay: "We're almost halfway through the year now and it seems like nobody wants to take the lead. Hopefully we can get on a little bit of a roll here and distance ourselves from the pack a little bit."

Second-line centre Matthew Lombardi, who scored both goals Tuesday against the Canucks, said the pressure is on the Flames to win every game now.

"It seems like you're going for first place every single game," Lombardi said. "You lose that game, you kind of lose ground and then you gain ground the next game.

"For us, we've just got to put something together, put some consistency together and I think we'll be able to do well."

Defenceman Andrew Ference said the Flames realize they have a great chance to gain some points on their current homestand.

"Of course, it's an opportunity," Ference said. "We'd love to go out there and just take charge and so would the other four teams but nobody's really done it yet.

"That's been everybody's Achilles heel is not taking hold of the opportunities. Obviously somebody's got to buck that trend pretty quickly. We obviously want it to be us. The potential's there, it's just the matter of execution which hasn't been done on a consistent enough basis by every team in our division."

Calgary coach Jim Playfair said his players have to concentrate on the basics to have continued success this season, especially during this homestand.

"It's a huge part of our push to win the division," Playfair said. "Each game is really important.

"We have to be focused now moving on and getting ready to win (Thursday night). You've got to put your game in order and you've got to maintain your game and keep it in order. That's the key."

The Flames have to forget about their lack of recent success against the Canucks and concentrate on remaining in the thick of things by being prepared for each and every game, Playfair said.

"You're going to have bad stretches, bad periods, bad shifts," said the Calgary coach. "If the base of your team play is in order and you're competitive and you're working hard, you're going to win your share of games."


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