Preview: Flames vs. Stars
The Dallas Stars have plenty of work in front of them over the next two weeks if they're going to clinch their first playoff berth in four years, but the club feels good as it hits the road.
The Calgary Flames' confidence is shaky as they return home for this critical stretch.
Dallas will try to sweep this home-and-home set and the season series Monday night when the low-scoring Flames look to avoid their first six-game losing streak in more than two years.
Since a 10-0-1 surge gave them a four-point edge atop the Pacific Division, the Stars (41-29-5) have dropped three of five and are locked in a tight battle with Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose for the title and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
If Dallas doesn't win that race, it will still have to make some noise away from home in order to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008. Beginning with this four-game trip, the Stars are on the road for five of their final seven.
"Sometimes it's easier to get on the road this time of the year and just kind of let loose for a road swing and just kind of put pressure on other teams in their buildings that have to win games," coach Glen Gulutzan told the Stars' official website following Saturday's 4-1 win over Calgary. "So I think the road trip comes at a good time for us because our game isn't quite where it should be and we can get away and get it to where it needs to be."
The Flames' game is nowhere close to where it needs to be as they open a three-game homestand. Since winning a season-best five straight, Calgary (34-27-15) has scored six total goals during its 0-2-3 skid to drop to 11th in the West - three points behind a trio of teams tied for eighth.
"We realize out of six games (left), we most likely have to win them all," said captain Jarome Iginla, who is looking for his first point in six games. "Our chances are slim. We most likely have to run the table. But we won't give up."
The Flames' last skid of at least six games was an 0-6-3 stretch Jan. 11-28, 2010.
Calgary has dropped all three games versus Dallas in 2011-12, including a 3-2 shootout loss March 4 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Flames have taken at least one point from 11 of 13 at home, but extending that trend against the Stars could be a tall task if Kari Lehtonen is between the pipes again.
Lehtonen's 35-save effort Saturday improved him to 10-2-1 with a 1.65 goals-against average in his last 13 starts.
"Their goaltender definitely was first star tonight," Flames coach Brent Sutter said of Lehtonen, who has a 1.60 GAA while starting each game against Calgary this season.
Finnish countryman Miikka Kiprusoff, who turned aside 16 of 19 shots Saturday, is 7-2-4 with a 2.44 GAA while starting each of Calgary's last 13 home games. He made 38 saves through overtime March 4 before Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson beat him in the tiebreaker.
Benn netted his first two regulation goals against Calgary this season Saturday, while Michael Ryder (team-high 33rd) and captain Brenden Morrow (empty-netter) also scored.
Dallas' Mike Ribeiro has team highs with three assists and four points versus Calgary this season after setting up Ryder's first-period goal.
Michael Cammalleri, who scored Saturday in his first game after missing nine with an upper-body injury, leads the Flames with three points in this series in 2011-12.
The Stars could get a boost on this trip from forward Reilly Smith, who signed a three-year contract this weekend after his Miami (Ohio) team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament.