FLAMES (40-29-9) at BLACKHAWKS (48-22-7)
Calgary 6-4-0; Chicago 4-4-2
Season series --
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season, with the Blackhawks aiming to sweep the Flames. They have outscored them 16-7 in the first three matchups, including a 6-5 overtime win on Oct. 12 in which Chicago rallied from a five-goal, first-period deficit and won on a Brent Seabrook
goal 26 seconds into the extra period. Patrick Kane
leads all scorers with three goals.
Big story --
What a difference a week makes. Calgary appeared dead in the water after getting trounced by Boston in a Saturday matinee on March 27. But the following day in Washington, the Flames began to turn things around. They defeated the team with the best record in hockey, then scored victories over Phoenix and Colorado. Heading into Sunday's action, the Flames and Avalanche are tied for eighth in the Western Conference with 89 points -- although Colorado, with five, has one more game remaining.
It was "moment of truth" time in Colorado on Friday -- Calgary could have fallen four points off the pace with a regulation loss, but instead the Flames scored two points while giving up none to the Avs. Nigel Dawes scored early in the second period and Rene Bourque
struck early in the third. Miikka Kiprusoff
made it stand up, finishing with 35 saves in a 2-1 win that drew the Flames even in the standings.
"It's a huge win," Kiprusoff said. "The Avalanche were ahead of us and we knew we had to win tonight and we were ready. We worked hard and it’s a huge two points and we have to continue to play the same way."
Antti Niemi solidified his credentials in the bid to become Chicago's No. 1 goaltender heading into the playoffs with a 32-save effort in New Jersey on Friday. Niemi also stopped all three shootout attempts by the Devils as the Blackhawks rallied for a 2-1 victory. They forced overtime on a goal by Kris Versteeg with just 26 seconds left in regulation and Niemi on the bench for a sixth attacker.
"Patience was the topic tonight and staying with it even though we were down early," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Antti kept us in there with critical saves, but I still thought we hung in there."
Who's hot --
Kiprusoff has stopped 95 of 100 shots (.950 save percentage) in winning his last three starts for the Flames. Bourque has a three-game goal-scoring streak and five points total during that span.
Niemi has stopped 53 of 54 shots (.981 save percentage) in winning his last two starts for the Blackhawks. Marian Hossa
has a goal and two assists during a three-game points streak. Jonathan Toews
had the shootout winner against the Devils and has posted a goal and two assists in the last three games. Tomas Kopecky has three goals in the last four games.
Injury report --
Calgary forwards Curtis Glencross
(knee), Christopher Higgins (foot) and Daymond Langkow
(neck) are all out indefinitely. … Chicago defensemen Kim Johnsson (upper body) and Brian Campbell (collarbone/rib) are sidelined.
Stat pack --
Eric Nystrom of the Flames played in his 200th NHL game on Friday. He has established career highs this season with 11 goals and 19 points. … The Blackhawks and Devils combined to play the first penalty-free game in the League since a 3-0 Bruins win over the Maple Leafs on March 28, 2001.
Puck drop --
Three consecutive victories against solid teams has put a spring back in the step of what previously seemed to be a previously lifeless Calgary squad.
"It's awesome," Bourque said. "Everyone in the locker room knew we could do it. It (was) just a matter of getting the job done and taking it game by game. We've been successful these last few games. We got a lot of help. Obviously (the Avalanche) is on a little bit of a skid, so we were able to gain some valuable points."