Flames visit Big D for key battle with Stars

A pair of teams that have struggled to get wins in recent outings will meet this afternoon in Dallas, as the Stars host the Calgary Flames in a key Western Conference battle at American Airlines Center.

Both the Flames and Stars put together nice winning streaks earlier this month before going through their current rough patches. Dallas is 1-3 after opening March with six straight wins, while Calgary is 0-1-3 since a five-game tear from March 6-15.

Something will have to give in today's game when the Stars and Flames, who are separated by just two points in the Western Conference standings, meet for the first part of a home-and-home series.

Dallas is currently sitting in a tie with Colorado for the eighth and final postseason berth in the West. San Jose is just one point behind those clubs and the Flames are another point further back in the conference's 11th spot. Colorado will host Vancouver on Saturday night and the Sharks will welcome Phoenix.

While Calgary is close to being mathematically eliminated from the Northwest Division race, the Stars are still very much alive in the battle for the Pacific Division title. The Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings, who host Boston on Saturday, are just one point in front of Dallas in the crowded divisional race.

Calgary won all four meetings with the Stars in 2010-11, but Dallas is 2-0 in this year's season series, winning a pair of tests after regulation. The Flames, who will host the Stars on Monday, have won four of six and six of their last nine tests in Big D.

The Flames have lost four games in a row and the last three setbacks came after regulation. Calgary's longest skid of the season was a five-game drought (0-4-1) from Dec. 29-Jan. 5.

Calgary's latest setback came in Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss in Minnesota. The Flames led the contest by a 2-0 score after Anton Babchuk's goal early in the second period, but the Wild would eventually take the two points when Devin Setoguchi scored in the fourth round of the shootout.

Babchuk and Lee Stempniak scored power-play goals for the Flames while Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 28 shots, including two in overtime.

"It's a tough loss, there's no question about that," said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla. "We were in good shape and in control of that game and we got ourselves back into penalty trouble and lost momentum and didn't get it back."

Today's test marks the end of a three-game road trip for the Flames, who are just 14-16-9 as the visiting club this season.

The Stars were dealt a 2-1 regulation loss in Thursday's game against visiting Vancouver. Cory Schneider stopped 25-of-26 shots for the Canucks and Kevin Bieksa notched the game-winner early in the third period.

Vernon Fiddler scored for Dallas about three and a half minutes after Bieksa's score, while Kari Lehtonen made 26 saves in defeat.

"We had a game plan to play fast, but instead got caught in extracurricular activities," said Dallas head coach Glen Gulutzan. "Saturday will show our sense of urgency."

Today's game is the last segment of a four-game homestand for the Stars, who will begin the first of four straight on the road Monday night in Calgary. Dallas is 21-14-3 as the host this year and 19-15-2 on the road.

In injury news, Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric could sit out a second straight game today with a strained abdominal muscle.

For the Flames, defensemen Derek Smith, Cory Sarich and T.J. Brodie are still sidelined with upper-body injuries. Forwards Mikael Backlund (left arm) and Mike Cammalleri (upper body) are also out indefinitely.