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GAME DAY: Calgary

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (12-12-6) VS. FLAMES (11-13-4)



The Calgary Flames are staring up at a crowded, at-times convoluted playoff picture in the Western Conference - but if there's one thing going for them, it's the NHL buzz term "games in hand."

Last night's game in Nashville (a 5-3 loss) was the Flames' 28th of the season, leaving 20 remaining beginning tonight against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Calgary is near the bottom of the conference standings sitting just above the Colorado Avalanche, but has an opportunity to pick up points on teams ahead; the Flames have played at least and sometimes two fewer games than each team they are chasing, which is a fine argument in their favor, but only if they win those games.

If the Flames are to get back in the race with limited time remaining, one item high on coach Bob Hartley's agenda is to cut down on the goals against. Only team in the West - Colorado (92) - has given up more goals than the Flames' 91 on the season, which was not aided by the absence of Miikka Kiprusoff earlier in the schedule. Calgary used a trio of goaltenders while Kiprusoff was out, including former Springfield Falcons netminder Danny Taylor, Leland Irving and Joey MacDonald, the latter currently being on the Flames' roster and could get one of the two starts on their current set of back-to-backs.

These are important games with valuable points on the line, and not unlike the Blue Jackets, the Flames know they must play better on the road if they're going to qualify for the postseason. Prior to last night's game against the Predators, Calgary was 3-7-2 away from Scotiabank Saddledome while posting a record of 8-5-2 on home ice - meaning this upcoming stretch could be one of the tipping points of their season.

And on the flip side of the games in hand coin, the Flames will be playing more games in a smaller window than any team in the race. Calgary's midwest swing began with a 4-3 loss in Dallas on Monday night, and continues to Nashville, Columbus and Chicago in the next six days. The Flames play one home game in the next week, a Sunday showdown with the St. Louis Blues before a couple of home games next week to close out the month of March - and when the calendar turns to April, they'll be spending most of their time on the road.

The Flames are going to need both their red-hot offense (14 goals in their last three games) as well as strong play from Kiprusoff in order to get into the playoff conversation. Depending on how Hartley opts to delegate the goaltending duties in this back-to-back, the Blue Jackets could face Kiprusoff on Friday night at Nationwide Arena.

- The Blue Jackets have extended their franchise-record point streak to 11 games (7-0-4) and have moved up into 10th place in the Western Conference standings entering Thursday night's NHL schedule.

- Vinny Prospal recorded his 500th career NHL assist on a third period goal by Nikita Nikitin on Tuesday. Prospal finished the night with 0-3-3 to become the first Blue Jacket to tally three points in a game this season.

- Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 32 Predators shots in improving to 10-6-5 on the season and 8-1-3 in his last 12 games played. Bobrovsky has now recorded a GAA of 1.56 and a SV% of .952 in his last dozen appearances.

Lee Stempniak
2013 STATS: 7-14-21, 27 GP

When several of the Flames' top players were struggling to pick up points and get going, Stempniak was one of the consistent guys right from the get-go this season. The 30-year-old winger, acquired via trade from the Phoenix Coyotes in August of 2011, has fit in nicely with the Flames and is off to a strong start this year as well. He's had two multi-point games in the past week and has proven that he can play regular minutes, logging between 16 and 19 per game under Hartley.

James Wisniewski (foot), on IR; Adrian Aucoin (maintenance), day-to-day; Derek Dorsett (fractured clavicle), on IR


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