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Panthers-Flames Preview @NHL

The Calgary Flames remain in the middle of the pack in the tightly contested Northwest Division. Things could be a lot different with improved special teams play.

The Flames look to get on track when they host the Florida Panthers on Thursday in the first meeting between the teams since the 2003-04 season.

Calgary (19-15-4) has dropped four of its last six games, with three of those defeats coming to division foe Vancouver. The Flames allowed two first-period goals Tuesday, including a power-play tally, and couldn't recover en route to a 3-2 loss to the Canucks.

Calgary was whistled for 39 penalty minutes resulting in 10 Vancouver power-plays. The Flames have allowed an extra-man goal in eight straight games and are stopping only 79.9 percent of opponents' chances this season.

"It impacts the flow of our game," said Flames center Matthew Lombardi, whose team is third in a division where the first and last-place teams are separated by just a few points. "They get on the power play moving the puck around, our guys on the (penalty kill) are out there a lot and getting tired while the other guys are sitting on the bench and are not getting the opportunity to get going."

Lombardi finally got things going Tuesday with a short-handed goal in the second period, his fourth of the season and the second-most in the NHL. Lombardi also scored the second goal for the Flames, but they failed to convert on seven power-play opportunities and are capitalizing on just 15.5 percent of their chances this season.

Kristian Huselius, who assisted on both of Lombardi's goals, has eight points in the last four games and is fourth on the team with 30 this season. The Flames' left wing will get the chance Thursday to face his former team for the first time since Florida traded him to Calgary on Dec. 2, 2005.

Huselius began his career with the Panthers and recorded 58 goals and 69 points in 257 games.

Calgary center Byron Ritchie, who played three seasons for the Panthers from 2001-2004, will also be playing against his old team for the first time.

The Panthers (15-20-7) are coming off just their second regulation defeat in the last eight games, a 4-1 loss at Edmonton on Tuesday. Florida allowed four unanswered goals before leading-scorer Olli Jokinen finally got the team on the board with a power-play goal late in the third period - the Panthers' first extra-man goal in five games.

"We had a slow start," Panthers defenseman Mike Van Ryn said. "Our power play has been struggling of late. We didn't really generate much offensively and we were a little loose."

Martin Gelinas, who assisted on Jokinen's goal, spent two seasons with Calgary from 2002-04 and had 87 points in 157 games. Florida's Ed Belfour is 2-6 with two ties and a 2.15 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against the Flames.

Florida is playing the second of three straight contests on the road, where it is 5-12-5 this season. The Flames are playing the fourth of a season-high six-game homestand and are 14-5-0 there this season, outscoring opponents 63-36.

Calgary won 4-2 on Jan. 10, 2004, in the last meeting between these teams.

Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff made 28 saves to earn a 6-0 shutout victory in his only career start against the Panthers on Jan. 5, 2002, when he was with San Jose.

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