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Dates to keep an eye on this season

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- With a condensed season to work with, points will be at a premium for National Hockey League clubs hoping to earn their way into the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And with 48 games to be played in just 97 days, it will be a long road ahead for a Calgary Flames club searching for their first playoff appearance since 2009. Back-to-back contests, three games in four nights and lengthy road trips litter the Flames calendar – and the dockets of 29 other franchises, for that matter – as the league looks to optimize its schedule.

In the shortened season, Calgary will only face their Western Conference opponents. This might not be a discouraging factor for Jarome Iginla and his crew, who were 31-22-10 in inter-conference play last season.

The Flames will also see a steady dose of their Northwest Division foes, a potential comfort after posting a combined 15-6-3 record against the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.

In all, Calgary will face the Canucks and Wild five times this season, while squaring off against the Oilers and Avalanche on four occasions. The Flames face Central and Pacific Division opponents three times each.

The schedule isn’t without its challenges.

The Flames will endure back-to-back games 11 times this season, including five times while playing away from Calgary and another pair of sets that will be split between the road and Scotiabank Saddledome. There isn’t much time to get used to home cooking, either. Calgary’s longest home stand lasts just three games, though they start the season with five of their first six games in the city.

In all, Calgary’s schedule will feature 11 home stints, including four different three-day stands. The Flames docket will also see Calgary make 11 road trips, and the Flames will play nine of their final 15 games away from home, finishing the season on a four-game road trip concluding against the Chicago Blackhawks.

And while ‘Every Game Matters’, here is a look at five key match-ups that can help push Calgary’s playoff aspirations in the right direction.

Calgary Flames vs. San Jose Sharks

Sunday, January 20th, 2013 at 5 PM MT

Serving as both the season and home opener for the Flames, setting the proper tone for the year is of the utmost importance in Calgary. With a schedule that will be weighted heavily at the Scotiabank Saddledome off the hop – including five of their first six games at home – gaining momentum early is critical for a team that went 23-12-6 on home ice last season. A victory against the Sharks can do just that.

Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks

Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 7 PM MT

Just like the home opener against the San Jose Sharks will be key to continually establishing the tempo of the season for Calgary, continuing that momentum in the second half of back-to-back games against the Anaheim Ducks is essential. Calgary can build on the energy of a successful home opener or find the necessary jump to spring ahead early. Nabbing two points from the Ducks on the back end of two games in two nights can set the stage for the opening home stand.

Calgary Flames @ Anaheim Ducks

Friday, March 8th, 2013 at 8 PM MT

A building where the Flames have found little success in recent years, Calgary starts a three game California road trip in Anaheim. The journey isn’t as pleasant as it sounds, as the Flames face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings in the second set of back-to-backs, then square off against former coach and general manager Darryl Sutter with just a day’s break in between. If Calgary can start that swing on a winning note against the Ducks, momentum could be in the Flames favor.

Battle of Alberta Home & Home

Monday, April 1st, 2013 to Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

With just six of the club's final 15 games at the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome in the final month of the regular season, the Flames will have an opportunity to start April off on an emotional note with a home-and-home Battle Of Alberta set. The first, on April Fool’s Day, sees Calgary travel up the QE2 to Edmonton, then welcomes the Oilers the following Wednesday. With almost a third of their schedule in the month of April, an intense set against a fierce rival will bring the level of emotion up for the stretch run.

Final Road trip @ Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 to Friday, April 26th, 2013

Not limited to a single The longest road trip the Flames will make this season will also serve as a wrap on the regular season. The Flames, who were 14-17-10 away from Scotiabank Saddledome last year, will need to cash in on key points in what will undoubtedly be a tight playoff chase with many teams – including some potential opponents on the final road trip – jockeying for position in the season’s final days.

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