A win on Sunday wouldn't just bolster the Calgary Flames' hopes for earning one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
It may also deal a near-fatal blow to the Chicago Blackhawks - one of the teams that's chasing them.
The Flames will look to avoid a three-game losing streak on Sunday when they visit Chicago, which ended its own four-game skid with an offensive outburst in its last game.
Calgary started its four-game road trip with consecutive losses against Washington and Atlanta, but the Flames' upcoming games will carry more weight as they face off against teams also in the playoff race in the West.
Five of their next six games are against conference foes within seven points of the Flames (36-25-10), who are two points out of the lead in the Northwest Division and part of a crowded cluster of teams vying for a postseason berth. That includes the Blackhawks (34-31-7), who are seven points behind Calgary.
|A win by the Calgary Flames this afternoon would put them in a tie with Colorado for sixth place in the Western Conference, while a Chicago Blackhawks' loss would mean that they would be seven points away from a final playoff spot with just nine games remaining. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
The Flames haven't helped their cause this week, surrendering a second-period lead in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Capitals and blowing a 3-0 lead on Thursday in a 6-4 loss to Atlanta. The Thrashers scored three goals in each of the final two periods.
"I think anytime you have a three-goal lead and don't defend it, it will hurt you," said Flames coach Mike Keenan, who coached the Blackhawks to four straight playoff appearances from 1988-92.
For Calgary, Jarome Iginla had a pair of goals to lead the Flames to only their second four-goal effort in the last 11 games, but backup goalie Curtis Joseph allowed five goals on 31 shots while giving starter Miikka Kiprusoff a night off.
It was only the third time the Flames have allowed six goals this season, and the Flames haven't lost three in a row since losing four straight in early January. Kiprusoff, who is 5-2-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average in his last nine starts, will likely be in net to try to stop the slide.
"We have to put this one aside and work for the next game. We need to regroup," Iginla said. "We were in good shape, but we had some breakdowns."
The previous week had been one long breakdown for the Blackhawks, but Chicago's offense broke out of a funk on Friday in a 6-3 win at Columbus. The Blackhawks had lost four straight and managed just one total goal in the previous two games.
Chicago scored a minute into the game, led 3-0 after the first period and got goals from six different players.
"We started very well," Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. "We were ready to play, bottom line. Everyone played a solid game. That's what we have to continue to do if we want to get to the playoffs."
It could be the fifth straight season without a playoff berth for Chicago, while the Flames are looking to qualify for the fourth consecutive season.
Calgary is 3-0-1 in its last four visits to the United Center, including a 3-2 win on Dec. 9, but the Blackhawks lead the season series 2-1 after a pair of wins in Calgary.
The Blackhawks won 3-1 on Feb. 7, as goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made 26 saves to end what had been a 10-game losing streak. But Khabibulin has missed the last 12 games due to back spasms, and his status is unclear for Sunday's game.