Flames approaching a Black hole?

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

Their performances are costing the Calgary Flames more than just the faith of some fans.

With each loss, their potential first-round playoff matchup is getting tougher.

Not only are they facing the possibility of a battle with the Chicago Blackhawks, but their seven wins over their last 17 games could mean they have to do it without home-ice advantage.

The Flames and the Vancouver Canucks are fighting for top spot in the Northwest Division and the third seed in the NHL's Western Conference.

The loser could fall to fifth, which would likely mean a trip to the Windy City, where the Blackhawks have been more than a little unkind to the Flames this year.

Sweeping the season series -- winning thrice in regulation and once in overtime -- the Hawks were especially dominant over the Flames at the United Center.

Plenty of opportunity to jumpstart their game with four first-period powerplays, the Flames came up empty in a 6-1 loss broadcast in Calgary on pay-per-view Nov. 9.

Outskated, outworked and completely overmatched, it would have been easy to list off a bunch of excuses for the embarrassing outing.

Star forwards Jarome Iginla and Michael Cammalleri were battling the flu.

The Flames hadn't had more than a day between games since late October, and played the night before in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. It was also their second back-to-back set in little more than a week.

One of Flames coach Mike Keenan's favourite expressions in times of trouble has been, "There aren't excuses, but sometimes there are reasons."

Against the Blackhawks, that might be easier to believe if it didn't keep happening.

Putting up a much better fight against the Blackhawks in Calgary Dec. 19, Keenan's team lost 3-2 in overtime.

A month later, the Flames were playing arguably their best hockey of the season amid a stretch of 10 straight games with at least a point.

That streak ended on a visit to Chicago Jan. 4, in another one-sided affair.

Coming off a third-period rally against the Nashville Predators the day before, the Flames came out flat at the United Center once again.

By the time the final frame rolled around, they were already down 4-1 and would ultimately lose 5-2.

Take away those two losses to the Hawks in that stretch, and the Flames would have won 11 straight games and had points in 13 in a row.

They just don't seem to have an answer for the Blackhawks' speed and offensive style.

It showed again Feb. 5, when the Hawks once again got the best of the Flames.

It took just 42 seconds to open the scoring. The end result was another 5-2 loss, and a sweep of the four-game set for Chicago.

A fifth -- and at least sixth, seventh and eighth -- meeting would be better reserved for the second or third round of the post-season.

Dropping an embarrassing 5-0 decision against the Blue Jackets in Columbus late last month didn't exactly inspire confidence that would be a great matchup for the Flames in the opening round, either, but the Blackhawks are a frightening team.

And unless the Flames can dig deep and earn more points over their final four games than the Blackhawks and/or Canucks, they'll be facing that fear in Chicago.

Throwing out the regular-season statistics is typical when entering the playoffs.

You can't predict what will happen in a seven-game series.

History, however, gives you a sneak peek -- and the past doesn't paint a pretty picture.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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