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Game #33 Preview: Flames at Blackhawks



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Calgary Flames
@ Chicago Blackhawks

Sunday, Dec 18, 2011, 5:00 PM MST
United Center

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One streak could come to an end tonight, and it's not looking good for the Flames.

The Chicago Blackhawks are coming into this contest boasting a four-game winning streak and an 8-1-1 record in their past ten games, while the Flames have lost three consecutive contests and will wrap up their four-game road trip at the United Centre tonight, a place where they haven't beaten the 'Hawks in their past ten games in the Windy City.

Yes, things are looking miserable for the Flames, and Jay Feaster’s comments during the Tampa game indicate that he knows it too. The sitting of Mikael Backlund, an effective player despite the fact that he hasn’t been accumulating points, indicates that Brent Sutter might be grabbing at straws as well.

Sitting at .500 without loser points, the visitors have been outshot in each of their past three losses, so it's not as if they've been playing well and waiting for a lucky break.

However, they have been able to catch such breaks against Chicago in the past (their last win, a 5-2 victory against the 'Hawks at the 'Dome, was a prime example of that), so I suppose there's always that possibility, but the fact that Chicago is really rolling on all cylinders right now makes that unlikely.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa are on hot streaks for the ‘Hawks while Patrick Kane is starting to pick it up again after scoring only one goal and two assists in his past five games.

Perhaps one of the more interesting occurrences where the Blackhawks are concerned is Ray Emery’s re-emergence as a number one goaltender in the NHL.

Emery has played every game since taking over for Crawford at the beginning of the month, and allowed only eight goals in the four games he's played.

Emery also has been fortunate against the Flames in his career so far, and it appears he will start tonight, facing Miikka Kiprusoff on the other side, who enjoyed a night off on Friday when Leland Irving took the reigns against the Panthers, allowing only two goals on 41 Florida shots in a shootout loss.

According to early line projections from the Flames website, it looks like Backlund will return to the lineup tonight, playing on a line with Lee Stempniak and Blake Comeau; they will likely find themselves matched up against the Blackhawks’ third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Brunette, and Sedin-killer Dave Bolland. Backlund’s line has been outplaying its opponents fairly regularly, and it would be nice to see that continue tonight.

The Flames will also have to be on the lookout for the Blackhawks' powerplay, currently ranked eighth in the league and with a variety of dangerous weapons in their arsenal. The Flames do have the advantage on the penalty kill, ranking 15th overall compared to Chicago's 27th overall ranking, but they will have to do their best to stay out of the box nonetheless, which seems to be a difficult task for them most nights but especially against the 'Hawks.

It's an early one tonight so we'll all have more time to grieve and/or celebrate without losing sleep, though it will likely be the former. Go Flames.

by Hayley Mutch