Playing their first home game in more than six weeks, the Vancouver Canucks certainly looked happy to be back in British Columbia.
They may not be as excited to see the surging Calgary Flames.
The Flames have already won once at General Motors Place this season, and they’ve taken four straight overall as they try to continue their playoff push Sunday night against the Northwest Division leaders.
Vancouver (42-23-3) opened a five-point lead over second-place Colorado in the division with its 5-1 victory over Ottawa on Saturday night, which came after the longest string of road games in NHL history.
With their arena hosting the Olympics, the Canucks played eight road games before the break and six more after, putting up an impressive 8-5-1 record.
But they’ve been even better at home, improving to 24-7-1 with their season-best sixth straight home win Saturday. They wasted no time taking control, outshooting the Senators 17-2 in the first period and 35-14 for the game.
Red-hot right wing Mikael Samuelsson(notes) sparked the Canucks with his 29th and 30th goals and an assist. Samuelsson, now playing on a line with twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin(notes), has scored at least one goal in six straight games, and has six goals and three assists in his last three contests.
“When you score some goals, you see a lot of net and I do right now,” Samuelsson said. “I’ve scored five in a row (before), but nothing like this.”
The Canucks should still get a stiff challenge from the Flames, who’ve been one of the NHL’s better road teams, going 17-9-6 away from home - including a 3-2 shootout win at Vancouver on Jan. 9 to improve to 3-1-0 this season against their western Canadian rivals.
Calgary (34-24-9) is still on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, however, trailing eighth-place Detroit by one point and seventh-place Nashville by two.
The gap is only so narrow because of a timely four-game run - the Flames’ first since they won five in a row from Dec. 28-Jan. 5. They scored a combined 14 goals in the first three victories, but used strong defense to beat the Senators 2-0 on Thursday.
“Guys are paying the price and that’s what you have to do if you want to win games like this,” Kiprusoff said. “If you block a shot, there’s not going to be a rebound and there’s no scoring chance.”
The Flames have cashed in on many of their scoring opportunities lately, with captain Jarome Iginla(notes) leading the way. Iginla did not have any points against Ottawa, but totaled four goals and three assists in the first three games of the streak.
He had five goals and two assists in seven games in Vancouver last month, helping Canada win an Olympic gold medal.
After Kiprusoff allowed four goals on seven shots over the first 10-plus minutes during Finland’s semifinal loss to the United States, Luongo made 34 saves in a 3-2 overtime win over the Americans in the gold medal game.
The Flames, however, have had success this season against Luongo, who has a 3.21 goals-against average in the four meetings. Kiprusoff has also had recent problems in the rivalry, going 5-4-2 with a 3.80 GAA in his last 11 starts against Vancouver.