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It would be foolish to think the Calgary Flames are better without Jarome Iginla in their lineup. His absence, however, could make them an improved team in the long run.
The Flames look to make it three wins in as many games without their best player Thursday when they visit the Colorado Avalanche in a Northwest Division matchup.
Iginla, among the league leaders with 53 points, suffered a sprained knee in a 5-4 overtime victory over Florida on Jan. 4 and is sidelined indefinitely. The Flames figured to struggle without their captain and leading scorer, but have won both games in his absence.
Byron Ritchie continued his unlikely scoring, netting his fourth goal in three games Tuesday in a 3-0 victory over visiting Minnesota.
After scoring only three times in the first 33 games, Ritchie has caught fire of late in response to the increased ice time he's received with Iginla out. He already has a career-high seven goals after managing only four last season.
"It's a lot more fun when you're contributing offensively and the team's winning," Ritchie said.
Daymond Langkow and defenseman Mark Giordano also scored Tuesday for Calgary (22-15-4), which has won three straight and finished 5-1-0 on its longest homestand of the season.
The Flames have pulled within one point of Northwest-leading Vancouver with two games in hand on the Canucks.
"Our division is so tight, you drop a couple in a row, you're in the cellar. You win a few in a row, you're in first place," Ritchie said.
Also playing well lately for Calgary is Miikka Kiprusoff, who stopped 26 shots Tuesday for his 100th NHL victory and 22nd shutout.
"It's not fun when Jarome is out, but we hope he's back as soon as possible. Now, while he's not in the lineup, we all have to play well," Kiprusoff said.
Kiprusoff has won four of his last five starts, but all those have come at home. He has allowed 12 goals during a three-game road losing streak.
Colorado (21-18-3) has also played well lately, matching a season high with three straight wins before a 4-3 shootout loss Tuesday to Detroit.
Ben Guite scored his first career goal and Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hejduk also scored for the Avs, who are three points behind Calgary in tight Northwest.
Peter Budaj stopped 40 of 43 shots in regulation and overtime in his sixth consecutive start.
"Peter Budaj was remarkable in the net," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was unfortunate that we lost, but we came away with a point in our first shootout loss of the year."
Budaj has appeared to have taken the starting job away from former Vezina Trophy winner Jose Theodore, who hasn't played since Dec. 27.
Budaj has allowed three goals or fewer in each of his last six starts. He hasn't fared too well against Calgary, though, going 1-3-1 with a 3.02 goals-against average in six career appearances.
Avs captain Joe Sakic has played well recently against the Flames, registering six goals and three assists in the last six meetings.
The Flames made it four straight wins over the Avalanche with a 5-2 home victory on Nov. 28. Calgary, however, has been outscored 10-4 in losing its last two visits to Colorado.