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Flames face off vs. Blues for first time this season

by David Kalan /
BLUES (22-19-7) at FLAMES (23-21-6)


Last 10 --
St. Louis 2-6-2; Calgary 5-2-3

Season series --
This is the first meeting of the season for the Blues and Flames. St. Louis took the 2009-10 series 3-0-1, including a 2-0 victory at the Saddledome the last time these two faced off on Jan. 25, 2010.

Big story -- Having not yet faced off this season, Calgary and St. Louis can deal a massive blow to a direct competitor in the muddled Western Conference playoff race as they head into this weekend's All-Star break.

Team scope:

Blues --
After closing 2010 with a five-game winning streak the Blues looked poised to make a big run up the Western Conference standings, but 2011 has been anything but kind to St. Louis. The Blues have won just two of the 11 games they've played this month, with their last outing in Colorado ending in a 4-3 loss to the Avs despite All-Star David Backes' impressive stop and score to keep the team alive late in the third period.

Hope is not lost, of course. Even though St. Louis has slipped to 14th in the West, the conference is so tight that the final playoff spot is well within reach if the Blues can reverse their fortunes. Doing so will require a return to form from goaltender Jaroslav Halak, however. While the big offseason acquisition has been impressive for most of the season, he has lost his last three starts, surrendering four goals each time.

Flames --
Calgary is looking good as the first half winds down, with three straight wins over three teams -- Dallas, Vancouver and Nashville -- that all appear playoff bound this spring, but the Flames' current winning streak is masking a less than ideal position. Calgary is outside the West playoff field and will need to hurdle several teams in the second half to earn an unexpected berth this spring.

Still, a potential fourth straight win would be a nice springboard to what is certain to be a hectic second half west of the Appalachians, and Calgary's troops have been playing well enough to inspire some hope -- namely Brendan Morrison, who has 4 points in three games, and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff who has stopped 64 of the last 68 shots he's faced. In the typically reliable Kiprusoff, however, the Flames may want to keep their eyes open for warning signs or shaky play. The one-time Vezina Trophy-winner has been yanked twice this month.

Who's hot --
Despite St. Louis' struggles, Patrik Berglund has still been sharp for the Blues, scoring 3 goals and adding 4 assists in his last six games. ... Jarome Iginla may now be 33 years old, but the prolific winger is as steady as ever, tallying 11 points in his last nine games.

Injury report --
While Calgary's Steve Staios, who has been out since early December with an upper-body injury, began participating in practice last week, he has no firm date for a return to the lineup. … St. Louis lost Carlo Colaiacovo to an eye injury last week and may also be without Barret Jackman, who is questionable with a lower-body injury.

Stat pack --
Halak was expected to be a difference maker for the Blues after his impressive postseason run last spring with the Canadiens, and while the Slovakian netminder exceeded those expectations early this season, going 8-1-1 in his first 10 starts, he has struggled to find the same success in the last 10 weeks. Since his tremendous start, Halak is just 9-15-4.

Puck drop --
Don't be surprised if these teams take a while to figure each other out in the first period. When the puck drops it will have been exactly one year and one day since the two last faced off, an unusually long time for two squads in the same conference. In spite of the long layoff, Calgary and St. Louis will try to familiarize themselves as quickly as possible. With the West as cramped as it is and all four games between the Blues and Flames yet to be played, their first meeting is a huge opportunity to thin out some direct competition.

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