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In preview of Heritage Classic, Habs host Flames

by Deborah Francisco
FLAMES  (20-20-5) AT CANADIENS (25-17-3)


Last 10: Calgary  6-2-2; Montreal 5-4-1.

Season Series – This is the first of two meetings between these Canadian clubs, and in true Canadian tradition, the second meeting will occur outdoors for the 2011 Heritage Classic on Feb. 20 to be played at McMahan Stadium in Calgary.

Big Story – This contest will set the stage for one of Canada's biggest regular-season contests as both squads will be eager to make a splash. While Montreal has a decided edge in League standings going into Monday night's game (14th place compared to Calgary at 23rd), the Flames have won two straight and are eager to climb back into playoff contention after a rocky first half of the season.

Team Scope:

Flames – Calgary has recently edged two Canadian foes with a 2-1 shootout victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night and a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 14. Prior to the pair of wins, Calgary picked up two points in as many games with two shootout losses, so Saturday night's shootout victory was all the more sweet for the struggling squad.

"One of the best feelings I've had … relief, excitement," said Matt Stajan, who notched the game-tying goal with just seven minutes left in the third period. "It's been a tough year, and to see that one go in and make a difference in the game, it feels really good, for sure."

Netminder Miikka Kiprusoff came up big between the pipes to help Calgary edge out Toronto, making 32 saves and turning aside four shootout attempts to assure the extra point for his squad.

"I felt pretty good,” Kiprusoff said.  "It was a big two points."

It's a bit too soon to call the pair of wins a streak, but the Flames believe that if they keep up their level of play, they can crawl back into playoff contention.

"We're just trying to focus on small steps and not look at the big picture," said captain Jarome Iginla, who leads the club with 18 goals and 40 points. "(Winning) two out of three (the rest of the way) will get us right around 95 points, and you'll have a good shot at making the playoffs. That's going to take some good hockey, but we think it's possible."

Canadiens – Montreal was happy to dismiss the New York Rangers 3-2 on Saturday night after falling 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. The Habs struck early against the Rangers, notching three goals in a 2:46 span to build a lead that would keep the Rangers at bay for the remainder of the contest.

"We were protecting the two-goal lead instead of keeping our pedal to the metal, but the main thing is we got away with two points," defenseman James Wisniewski said after setting up power-play goals by Roman Hamrlik and Tomas Plekanec.

Apart from the loss on Wednesday, Montreal is on a 5-1-1 run and trails Boston for the Northeast Division lead by only two points. The team continues to get support from its netminders -- Carey Price and Alex Auld -- who have Montreal in fourth place overall in GAA at 3.38.

Who's Hot – Wisniewski notched two assists in Montreal's last contest and boasts four points in as many games. … Olli Jokinen tallied the shootout winner for Calgary against the Maple Leafs on top of three points in his last four games.

Injury Report – Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr is day to day (leg), while Steve Staios is still out with a rib injury. …  Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges are out for Montreal.

Stat Pack – Calgary, which had a five-year playoff streak snapped in 2009-10, is looking to record a point in a fifth straight game for the first time since a five-game win streak Dec. 28, 2009-Jan. 5, 2010.

Puck Drop – The 2011 Heritage Classic to be played between these two clubs on Feb. 20, is the second NHL regular-season game to be played outdoors in Canada. The Canadiens were featured in the first outdoor game on Nov. 22, 2003 in Edmonton. The Canadiens defeated the Oilers, 4-3, in that contest.

"As everyone knows, the roots of our game are in Canada," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the announcement of the Heritage Classic last August. "And the roots of our game emanate from frozen ponds and backyard rinks in Canada. When you have a heritage as proud and as strong as we do, you want to celebrate it."

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