Flames, Canucks renew rivalry in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks could use a little boost right about now, and they will probably get one Saturday -- by playing against each other.

The clubs will resume their re-festering rivalry as the Flames (29-26-3) visit the Canucks (25-27-6) at Rogers Arena. The rivalry was, arguably, more intense several years when both clubs were in their heydays while relying on established veterans instead of trying to get stronger with young players.

But motivation should not be an issue.

"I think it's a good (rivalry)," said Flames captain Mark Giordano earlier in the season. "It took a bit of a hit last year when (both teams) didn't get into the playoffs there. We've played each other in the playoffs recently (2014-15.) A lot of our games are tight games, close games, and I think it's getting back up there. The best way to get it going, obviously, is for both teams to get in the playoffs and play each other."

The Flames, a modest 5-5-0 in their past 10 games, face a Canucks squad that went 2-4 on a just concluded six-game road trip and posted a modest 3-7-0 mark in its past 10 outings.

"Both teams don't like each other very much," said Flames winger Lance Bouma. "Those are games you want to be a part of, because it's kind of the hate for the other, and obviously, you want to come out of here and get two points in their building."

Intensity should not be an issue, either.

"It's always a good game," said Bouma, who rates Vancouver as his team's top rival. "It's always a competitive game."

"For us, there's always some good battles against Calgary," said Canucks winger Sven Baertschi, who has been sidelined recently with a concussion. "I think everybody's excited and it hypes up the game."

The Western Conference standings are also feeding the hype.

The Flames, who hold a five-point lead over the Canucks, are above the playoff bar and looking to stay there. The Canucks are below the bar and aiming to move up -- and desperately seeking points after playing well on their road trip but losing in regulation more than they should have.

"It seems, in the Western Conference, teams are losing left and right," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin told The Vancouver Sun upon conclusion of their road trip in St. Louis, where they suffered a 4-3 loss. "We've just got to hang in there, just keep grinding away."

Better goaltending will help the Canucks' cause after Jacob Markstrom put in what he called an "awful" performance against the Blues. Ryan Miller is expected to get the start against the Flames.

On the other hand, ongoing strong goaltending from Brian Elliott could enable the Flames to put more distance between themselves and the Canucks. Elliott, who has rejuvenated his game after a slow start to the season relegated him to the bench, was credited with helping the Flames steal a 3-1 win at home over Philadelphia on Wednesday. He made 33 saves in a game that was closer than the score indicated --Giordano scored a late empty-netter to pad Calgary's lead.

Meanwhile, defenseman Matt Bartkowski has a chance to make his Flames debut against his former Canucks team after signing with Calgary earlier in the week. Bartkowski had spent all season with Providence of the American Hockey League on a minor-league contract. The Canucks let him go in the offseason after he produced six goals and 18 points in 80 games, but was a defensive liability. But other NHL teams were not interested in signing him in the offseason.

Now, Bartkowski, 28, finally gets an opportunity to play for Calgary after he was slated to join the organization from Boston as part of a blockbuster deal in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season for then-Flames captain Jarome Iginla. The Bruins thought they had a deal negotiated, but Iginla nixed it according to his contract rights and opted to go to Pittsburgh instead.

"This (move to Calgary) has been six years in the making," joked Bartkowski in a text with CSN New England.

He had two goals and 10 points, along with an even plus-minus rating, with Providence. By signing with Calgary, he has given the Flames some flexibility in the expansion draft. In other words, they could choose to expose him.

But for now, there's a rivalry to be waged.

"It's just good to be a part of the team and back in the NHL," Bartkowski told NHL.com.