Flames begin critical set with Stars

Having squandered several opportunities to improve their position in the Western Conference in the last week, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames open a critical home-and-home set Saturday afternoon in Texas.
Calgary defenceman Jay Bouwmeester and Dallas forward Tom Wandell battle in a game earlier this season. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Just over a week ago, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames were both charging hard toward the playoffs. They've done little to fortify their postseason aspirations since.

Having squandered several opportunities to improve their position in the Western Conference in the last week, the Stars and Flames open a critical home-and-home set Saturday afternoon in Dallas.

The Stars (40-29-5) are in eighth place in the West with 85 points and two games in hand on ninth-place Colorado, which has the same point total. Dallas entered Thursday's home game against Vancouver atop the Pacific Division, but a 2-1 loss coupled with wins by Los Angeles and Phoenix dropped the Stars a point behind the Kings and Coyotes.

Dallas vaulted to the top of the Pacific thanks to a 10-0-1 stretch from Feb. 21-March 13 - which included a 3-2 shootout win in Calgary on March 4 - but is 1-3-0 since.

"We weren't as focused as we need to be this time of year," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "Maybe it's a good reality check of how delicate these next eight games are going to be."

Calgary (34-26-15) can certainly relate, as it is also in the mix for one of the West's final two playoff spots. The Flames have two fewer points than Dallas and are in 11th place, one behind San Jose.

A season-high five-game winning streak from March 6-15 got Calgary back in the playoff conversation, but it is 0-1-3 since. Three of those defeats came to Minnesota, Edmonton and Columbus — the three worst teams in the West.

"We don't feel we're out of it by any means but we know we stumbled a bit in these games," captain Jarome Iginla said after Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Wild.

Calgary took a 2-0, second-period lead against Minnesota behind goals from Lee Stempniak and Anton Babchuk yet only managed one point for a third straight game. Babchuk's goal came on a 5-on-3 power play, but the Flames also had another minute with a two-man advantage and couldn't capitalize.

"You have to want to be in the playoffs and right now we're giving it away," left wing Alex Tanguay said.

The Flames, trying to avoid their first five-game losing streak since Dec. 29-Jan. 5, haven't been giving Miikka Kiprusoff much of a chance.

They've combined for five goals during their skid after totaling 21 during their winning streak. Iginla, the team leader with 31 goals and 62 points, doesn't have a point in the last four games after tallying six goals and four assists in the previous five.

"It's just frustrating," Calgary's Blake Comeau said. "All around it feels like a big letdown and we got to figure it out before we play Dallas."

Like the Flames, the Stars are also struggling to score.

Dallas has been limited to two or fewer goals in five of six games, and its lone score Thursday came when Canucks goalie Cory Schneider misplayed the puck giving Vernon Fiddler an easy goal.

"We know that we're a great team," left wing Eric Nystrom said. "We just got to move forward and learn from our mistakes, shoot the puck a little more and go to that net and get some ugly ones and we'll be fine."

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen has been in net for both games against the Flames this season, recording a 1.89 goals-against average in a pair of non-regulation wins.

Kiprusoff, who has a 1.51 GAA in his last five starts, has a 2.37 GAA against the Stars this season.