Happy for home stretch

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

A 12-hour delay sitting on the tarmac at the Calgary airport thanks to a mechanical problem was a bad omen which kicked off the Flames two-week road trip from hell.

Starting a three-game homestand with a win would be a great way for the club to launch into the final few weeks of the season.

"We want to be playing well going into playoffs. We don't want to be kind of sliding in there," said winger Eric Nystrom yesterday after the team's first practice back at the Dome following a seven-game Eastern swing.

"We need to pick up our work ethic and pick up our game a little bit and get the confidence going. If you're confident going into the playoffs and the team's playing well, we can do some damage."

Facing the Dallas Stars tonight (7 p.m., TSN), the Flames will have their hands full. Claiming both their previous meetings this season by 3-1 scores, the Texans won't easily give in.

And the Flames know home-ice advantage is no guarantee to help them turn things around after going 3-4 on the road while displaying some atrocious defence.

"That road trip wasn't the best hockey we've played. We've been good at home, but just because we're here, doesn't mean we're going to win three games," said Nystrom.

"We've got to come prepared to play hard and play our best game. These games are going to be huge for us."

They're all going to be huge in their eyes as March hits the high numbers and April looms around the corner.

"I think they all become very, very important right now -- at home, on the road -- to set a real precedent for how we're going to play down this stretch of the season and moving on to the post-season," said winger Michael Cammalleri.

"I think they're all of the utmost importance right now in our attitude and our discipline as a team."

Being home has given the Flames time to address the problems that were brought to light the past couple weeks.

"I think it's important for us to be back into a routine," said head coach Mike Keenan, who yesterday disclosed the lengthy plane delay that got them off on the wrong foot out east -- although they won the first two games of the trip.

"Fifteen days out of your home is a long period of time. A lot of issues come into play."

Consider them addressed, both on and off the ice.

"We had some things to address as a group here. Nice to be able to get back home and do that," said Cammalleri.

"We're looking forward to this homestand."

Considered a trap game in many circles, the first home date after a long trip often sees the home team tapped for energy.

Nystrom figures the opposite will take place tonight.

"I don't think that's the case at all. We've been on the road for two weeks. We're just excited to get back in front of our own fans, put those games behind us and get back on the horse," he said.

"I think coming back to our building is where it's going to happen."


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