Saturday, March 24th, 2012, 1:00 PM CST
American Airlines Center
Opponent Blog: Matchsticks and Gasoline
A 10-0-1 streak put the Dallas Stars in prime playoff position in the Western Conference. Losing three of four in games 71 through 74 has threatened to take them out of it - All the way down to 8th place, or worse, depending on today's outcome.
So it's another "biggest game of the year" for the Stars, who try to salvage a four game home stand at 2-2 with a favorable result this afternoon in a matinee.
Dallas got caught up in a game of "extracurriculars" when Vancouver visited on Thursday night. Cory Schneider shut the door on several quality Stars' opportunities while Mike Ribeiro, Sheldon Souray and others took costly penalties that took valuable time off the clock down the stretch. Vernon Fiddler scored in the third but the Stars dropped a 2-1 decision, and their Pacific Division lead.
Los Angeles, Colorado, San Jose and Phoenix are all in action elsewhere in the conference, making this another monumentally important day. If the Stars can win this early game, they put that much more pressure on other teams to perform.
The Flames looked set to join the Stars at 85 points on Thursday night with a 2-0 lead midway through a game in Minnesota, but wound up losing 3-2 in a shootout.
"We were in control of that game, took some penalties and lost the momentum," said Jarome Iginla. "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."
Four straight losses makes nearly every game a must-win for Calgary down the stretch, as they have ground to make up and just seven games in which to do it. Their last visit to the AAC ended with a Mike Ribeiro overtime winner on February 16th.
Please be advised that this is an early (really early) 1:00pm start at American Airlines Center. Be mindful of getting their even earlier than that to participate in a pre-game ceremony honoring the life of former Dallas Stars defenseman Karlis Skrastins.
More on each team after the jump...
Practice was light on Friday on the heels of the Stars' loss to the Canucks Thursday night.
"Lot of minutes. Couple of other guys decided they'd rather skate," said Gulutzan. "A few guys had maintenance days, but they needed it."
Those guys were Steve Ott, Mike Ribeiro, and Stephane Robidas, according to ESPN Dallas. Maybe more. So there's been no clear indication on what the lineup will be to start this game.
As the Stars have searched for offense in the late stages of these recent losses, Glen Gulutzan has toyed with the idea of changing his forward lines. Thursday night he did it again after the Mike Ribeiro penalty shot, and stuck with it for over 20 minutes. Jamie Benn was reunited with Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribeiro with Brenden Morrow. Previously he has returned to the original lineup for the start of the next game.
That would be this lineup:
Having flirted with it a couple of times, will he swap Morrow and Eriksson for real this game? Or return to what worked during the big point streak? There's no morning skate tomorrow, so we'll all find out together at game time.
From Stars PR "The Dallas Stars are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for having the most players with 55-or-more points on the season (four). Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder, Jamie Benn and Mike RIbeiro have each eclipsed 55 points while Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews from Chicago have also reached the 55-point mark."
Kari Lehtonen will of course battle Miikka Kiprusoff once more in net.
The Flames enter with their playoff chances dying a slow, painful death, and like Dallas - very desperate for points as time runs out. Calgary has collected points in each of their last three games, all of them overtime/shootout losses. They sit at 83 points with just seven games remaining.
They've lost four in a row overall, and the quality of the competition could be something of a red flag signaling their demise. They've failed to pick up wins against the Blue Jackets, Avalanche, Wild and Oilers.
Their path to the post season, and the 94 points it will probably take, is near perfection. They need a 5-1-1 record the rest of the way to achieve it, and taking the Stars down in consecutive games would go a long way toward knocking one of these Pacific Division teams out, so a second team from the Northwest can get in.
Offense is the problem for this team right now. They've kept games close defensively with low scores, but they can't get the extra one when they need it. The Flames have scored 2, 1, 1, and 1 in their last four games. Compare that with 4, 3, 4, 5 and 5 in their five-game win streak preceeding this latest swoon.
"We've got to find ways to score," said coach Brent Sutter before Thursday's loss. "Scoring one goal a game . . . we need more than that right now."
Their lineup recently:
Kiprusoff in net, of course. Mike Cammalleri is on injured reserve (upper body), as is Mikael Backlund (upper body). Cory Sarich and Derek Smith are day to day and could very well return to this lineup for this one.