Flames want to avoid slipup vs. Senators

Field Level Media

Sitting first in the Western Conference and already with a playoff berth in their pocket, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Calgary Flames look past their next opponent.

Up next for the Flames are the Ottawa Senators, the NHL's last-place squad, for a Thursday night clash in the Stampede City. And the Senators are coming off a 7-4 road loss Wednesday night to the Vancouver Canucks, while Calgary had the night off.

However, the Flames (45-21-7, 97 points) are well aware the importance of their game with Ottawa isn't so much about the opposition as it is for them to start cranking up their play for what's coming in a few weeks: the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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"We can't lose like 10 games in a row and expect to start the playoffs at a high (level)," Calgary goalie David Rittich said. "We want to be ready for that, and the only way to do it is to play every game until then as if it's a playoff game. Plus, we want to finish first in the division. That's our (motivation) right now."

Calgary has won four of five, the latest a 4-2 victory over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night. The Flames are three points ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the race for the top berth in the West.

"Every game's important, especially for us," Flames forward Austin Czarnik said. "We have to come in with the mindset that we need the two points every single night to get to where we want to be and set ourselves up as well as we can for the playoffs."

Meanwhile, the Senators (25-42-6, 56 points) are looking for motivation. They are already eliminated from postseason contention.

"Guys, in a lot of cases, are playing for contracts next year," interim Ottawa head coach Marc Crawford told Postmedia. "This is an organization that needs players, needs bodies, and there's a lot of guys in our organization whose contracts are up. It's nice they're getting great opportunity to show themselves, and they've shown themselves well."

Speaking of showing well, Max Veronneau, whom the Senators signed as a free agent out of Princeton University a couple of weeks ago, netted his first NHL goal against the Canucks, giving him one goal and two points in three big-league games.

Unfortunately, the task for Ottawa may have become a little harder. The Senators are already without top defenseman Thomas Chabot -- who may return from a broken toe Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers -- and blue-liner Cody Ceci left the Vancouver game due to an upper-body injury.

Meanwhile, the Flames might get some key players back in the lineup very soon. Top-line center Sean Monahan (illness) and forward Sam Bennett (upper-body injury) could return after missing the past two games, while veteran winger James Neal (upper-body injury) is nearing a return having sat out 16 games -- although he's not expected to suit up against Ottawa.

"He's getting closer, but sometimes you need a game, too. That'll hopefully be this weekend," Calgary coach Bill Peters said of Neal.

--Field Level Media

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