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Flames figure to have hands full with Wild

by Brian Hunter
FLAMES (36-26-9) at WILD (34-31-6)

Last 10:
Calgary 7-3-0; Minnesota 4-4-2

Season series:
Fifth of six meetings this season between Northwest Division rivals, and third this month. Minnesota has proven difficult for Calgary to handle, taking three of the first four matchups, including a 2-1 overtime decision on Dec. 11 with Martin Havlat netting the winner. Jarome Iginla did record a hat trick to lead the Flames to a 5-2 win in the most recent game between these teams on March 7.

Big story: Two teams chasing the final Western Conference playoff berth meet, but the Wild will need something of a miracle to get back in this race. They trail the ninth-place Flames by seven points entering Sunday's action.

Team Scope:

Flames: Goal-scoring has been an Achilles' heel for Calgary this season, but the Flames put up seven goals in back-to-back wins over the Avalanche and Sharks last week. Iginla snapped a four-game drought with his team-leading 32nd of the season to open the scoring against San Jose and help build a 4-1 lead. Miikka Kiprusoff helped them hold on for a 4-3 victory, stopping 25 shots.

"Our emotion level was there tonight," coach Brent Sutter said. "Our urgency level was there. Our intensity for all three periods was there."

Niklas Backstrom has been missing in action since a shootout loss to Florida on March 9, but the Minnesota goaltender could start Sunday. At the very least he figures to dress, as Wade Dubielewicz was sent back to the AHL on Saturday. Josh Harding started all six games for the Wild while Backstrom battled a groin injury and came away with a split. He won three straight at one point but has lost his previous two, including 4-2 to the Blue Jackets on Friday.

"The feeling in this dressing room is pure disappointment," Harding told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "We knew we had the game, and then some stupid plays handcuffed us at the end."

Who's hot: Eric Nystrom has goals in consecutive games for the Flames. … Mikko Koivu has two goals and three assists in his last four games for the Wild. Chuck Kobasew has two goals in his last three games.

Injury report:
Calgary forwards Curtis Glencross (knee) and Christopher Higgins (foot) are day-to-day. … Minnesota defenseman Shane Hnidy (leg) and forward Derek Boogaard (facial lacerations) are day-to-day. Defenseman Greg Zanon is sidelined with a broken ankle. Defensemen Brent Burns (hip/abdomen), Justin Falk (concussion) and Clayton Stoner (sports hernia) are out indefinitely. Forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has missed virtually the entire season due to a concussion.

Stat pack:
Kiprusoff has had an up-and-down run against the Wild, losing four straight against them dating back to last season while posting a 3.46 goals-against average. Prior to that, he had won five straight in the series. … Minnesota forward Casey Wellman had an assist in his NHL debut on Friday, taking 16 shifts for 10:09 of ice time and recording two shots on goal.

Puck drop:
Every game down the stretch will be critical for the Flames as they battle with the Red Wings for eighth in the West. The Wild absolutely can't afford to lose, and their desperation would be further buoyed by the return of Backstrom, who has been in net for all four games this season against the Flames.

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