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Stars, Flames start crucial home-and-home

by Brian Hunter
FLAMES (34-26-15) at STARS (40-29-5)


Last 10:
Calgary 5-1-4; Dallas 7-3-0

Season Series:
Third of four meetings, and the start of a home-and-home that concludes Monday night in Dallas. The Stars have won each of the first two matchups by a 3-2 score -- Feb. 16 in overtime on a Mike Ribeiro goal, and March 4 in a shootout with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson scoring.

Big Story:
While only two points separate these teams in the standings, this game is much more of a must-win for Calgary, given the differing situations. The Stars are currently in eighth but still have a realistic shot of winning the Pacific Division and earning the Western Conference's third seed. They have eight games left in the regular season. The 11th-place Flames only have seven games remaining and no shot of winning their division, so their only hope is to catch either the Stars or Coyotes for one of the final two playoff berths.

Team Scope:

Flames: Making it to the postseason one point at a time isn't a strategy likely to work for Calgary, which must start picking up two at a time in order to make up the necessary ground. The Flames have lost three in a row either in overtime or the shootout, extending their overall skid to four straight. Thursday night's loss to the struggling Wild was particularly hard to stomach. Power-play goals by Lee Stempniak late in the first period and Anton Babchuk early in the second staked the Flames to a 2-0 lead, but they coughed it up and fell 3-2 in a shootout.

"It was a tough loss, no question," captain Jarome Iginla said. "We were in control of that game, took some penalties and lost the momentum. "You look at the standings, this is a tough one. We all feel it tonight, we weren't good enough and there's no excuses."

Stars: One loss and an opponent's win is all it takes to plummet in the standings when you play in the Pacific, and that's what happened to Dallas on Thursday. The Stars fell from the third seed all the way down to No. 8 by virtue of their 2-1 loss to the Canucks and the Kings' 1-0 shootout win over the Blues, which vaulted Los Angeles into the division lead. The Stars became the latest team to have trouble getting pucks past Vancouver goalie Cory Schneider, who stopped a Ribeiro penalty shot and had a shutout going until Vernon Fiddler's goal 7:44 into the third cut the Dallas deficit in half.

"It's crunch time here, and we have to win games," defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "We all know that. They got a two-goal lead and started sitting back on everything, so you have to work a little harder. We did a good job sticking to the plan and trying to get pucks behind them and go forecheck. We had a few chances but couldn’t bury it."

Who's Hot:
Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is 6-0-4 in his last 10 starts and has given up two goals or fewer in five straight.

Injury Report:
Calgary defensemen Cory Sarich and Derek Smith are day-to-day with upper-body injuries. Defenseman TJ Brodie (upper body) and forwards Mike Cammalleri (upper body) and Mikael Backlund (arm) are on injured reserve. … Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric is expected to miss about a week with an abdominal strain.

Stat Pack:
Babchuk, who's found his way back into the Flames' lineup in the past weeks, has points in consecutive games and his goal Thursday was his first since March 9, 2011, against the Stars. … Eriksson and Michael Ryder are tied for the Stars' lead with a plus-20 rating. It would be a career best for Eriksson, while Ryder was plus-28 for the Bruins during the 2008-09 season.

Puck Drop:
Dallas is attempting to break a three-year playoff drought, while the Flames look to avoid a third consecutive empty spring.

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