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Flames try to end drought vs. Blackhawks

by David Kalan

BLACKHAWKS (34-12-4) at FLAMES (26-18-6)

Last 10 -- Chicago 7-2-1; Calgary 3-6-1

Season series -- Chicago leads the season series 2-0, having dealt the Flames a pair of crushing defeats. The Hawks defeated the Flames 6-5 in overtime on Oct. 12 after trailing 5-0 in the first period, then trounced Calgary 7-1 at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Nov. 19 during their annual circus trip.

Big story -- The struggling Flames will look to get back on the winning track against the Blackhawks, whom they haven't beaten in the regular season in 22 months.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks -- The Hawks may be in the midst of a season-high eight-game road trip, but they're apparently quite comfortable in Calgary. Chicago has won six consecutive regular-season games in the Saddledome, as well as six in a row overall in the series. Coming off their third loss in the last six games, the Hawks could use a win to keep them on the right side before the grind of their current trip starts to hit them, but despite a 4-1 loss in Ottawa on Tuesday night, Chicago is hardly struggling.

The Hawks have still been producing offensively, with Duncan Keith chipping in from the blue line with 10 points in his last nine games, while Patrick Sharp is one of many forwards playing their part with six points in the last six games. The big area of concern may be in net, where Cristobal Huet appears to have hit a slump in what has been a very strong season. Huet has given up at least four goals in three of his last four starts, which could mean a start for backup Antti Niemi, who has excelled on the road this season. The Finnish netminder is 6-1-1 with a 1.28 goals-against average away from the UnitedCenter.

Flames -- Times have been tough in Calgary, as the Flames have lost five straight overall and haven't won in regulation in more than two weeks. The woes reached a crescendo Monday night in San Jose, where the Flames suffered a 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the West-leading Sharks, Calgary's worst loss in more than 13 years. Typically elite goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff had been playing well despite the losses, giving up just six goals in the previous three games. But the wheels came off at the Shark Tank, as Kiprusoff was pulled after surrendering six goals in two periods.

Another loss would give the Flames their fifth straight defeat at home for the first time in nearly a decade, as well as put their season in serious Jeopardy. Calgary's recent skid has sent the Flames tumbling in the standings; they are just two points ahead of ninth-place Detroit. Of course, with the West's top eight as tight as it is, Calgary is still just four points behind Northwest-leading Colorado. A win in which the Flames exorcise their demons against Chicago could get them back in the hunt for a prime playoff seed.

Who's hot -- In Calgary, a team short on offense lately can take some solace in the play of Olli Jokinen, who may be getting back on track with points in his last two games after a three-game scoreless streak. Chicago's Marian Hossa appears to be making good on the 12-year contract he signed this offseason, tallying 12 points over the last 10 games.

Injury report -- Calgary may be without David Moss, who is questionable for undisclosed reasons, while Chicago is expected to have a full lineup with the exception of Adam Burish and Dave Bolland, both of whom have been on injured reserve for several months.

Stat pack -- As the Flames search high and low for some offense, they might wonder where Jarome Iginla has disappeared to. The Calgary captain has gone nine games without a goal, his longest stretch since a 10-game drought nearly two years ago.

Puck drop -- While the Blackhawks have looked average of late, they're still sitting in good position, just two points off the lead in the conference and the overall standings. Make no mistake, however. Chicago would love to grab the West's top seed. Despite their struggles with the Hawks, the Flames are likely to come out with a good performance. Calgary, which looks to be at a critical juncture of its season, will want a win to wash away the bad taste of Monday's big loss in San Jose.

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