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Flames running out of time in hunt for playoff spot

by Dave Lozo
In the jam-packed Western Conference, where holding onto a playoff spot near the cut-off point has been about as easy as securing hold of a greased pig, the Calgary Flames look like a team about to let their season slip away.

The Flames used a 22-6-6 run that started at the end of December to climb from 14th to fifth in the conference as recently as March 9. But they're now in the middle of a 1-3-1 stretch as they enter Monday's pivotal game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET, GCL) in 10th place in the West with 84 points, one point out of eighth.

Working against the Flames is the fact that after Monday's game, they will have played three more games than the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks, the two teams right in front of them in the standings. The Flames will play their 75th game of the season Monday, which will be either three or two more than every team that is ahead of them by two points or fewer in the standings.

It looked like the Flames were going to pick up a much-needed victory in Anaheim on Sunday after they erased a 3-0 deficit and led 4-3 late in the third period. But a Rene Bourque penalty set up a Ducks' power-play goal that tied it. Corey Perry's overtime goal won it for the Ducks.

"We got to move on quickly," Flames coach Brent Sutter said. "You got to dissect what took place (Sunday), handle it the right way and start getting ready for our next game there. We got to start getting ready for the Kings."

The Kings are in a three-way tie for the fifth-most points in the West with 86, but are in sixth place due to tiebreakers. A victory against the Flames would pull the Kings to within four points of the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks; a loss would leave the Kings in the middle of the Western Conference pack.

The Kings looked to be headed in the right direction after a 4-0-0 road trip that included wins in Detroit, Dallas and Nashville. But they followed that with a dreadful 4-0 home loss to the St. Louis Blues on March 17 and a hard-fought 2-1 overtime loss to the Ducks two nights later.

"It's a team we'd obviously like to beat in regulation to put some more space between us, but it was a fun game to be a part of," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said of losing to the Ducks. "We deserved better, but we're going to focus on the positives."

The Flames' final seven games after Monday feature four away from the Scotiabank Saddledome, but four games against teams out of the playoff chase -- Colorado, St. Louis and two against Edmonton.

Things are a little tougher for the Kings in their final nine games, with just two against teams looking toward next season, the Avs and Oilers. The Kings will finish their season with a home-and-home series against the rival Ducks.

The Kings are 2-1-0 against the Flames this season, with their most recent victory coming in a shootout on Feb. 5 in Calgary.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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