SUN Hockey Pool

Texas-sized chance for Flames

Flames forward Jarome Iginla fights with Ducks defenceman Francois Beauchemin at the Honda Center...

Flames forward Jarome Iginla fights with Ducks defenceman Francois Beauchemin at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., March 2, 2012. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:29 AM ET

CALGARY - It's not quite do-or-die territory for the Calgary Flames yet.

But it's pretty close to the land of don't-do-and-you-will-be-dead.

For the Flames, Sunday's date wit the Dallas Stars is as big as a Texas oilman's spread.

With the Stars holding the No.-8 spot in the Western Conference standings, and the Flames four points behind and in the 11th position, the twilight affair (4 p.m., Sportsnet West) at the Saddledome sets up to be the kind which could rekindle hope in the club's flickering playoff hopes -- or snuffs them further.

"Either two points back or six. It's the biggest game of the year -- but that's what every game is at this time of year," Flames centre Olli Jokinen said.

The Flames stayed over in Anaheim after Friday night's dispiriting 3-2 loss in which the Ducks beat them for the 15th consecutive time on home ice, the latest coming thanks to Ryan Getzlaf's winning tally in the final minute, before making their way back.

They certainly had plenty to sleep on, and not nearly as enjoyable as the nearby Disneyland rides.

The date with Big D is as much of a test as their fortitude after such a crushing loss as an opportunity to pull closer to striking distance of that elusive playoff spot.

It's something coach Brent Sutter realized soon after the defeat.

"We had a chance to have that gap closer," Sutter lamented. "I've got to regroup off this one and get these guys ready for Sunday.

"It is a big game. (Losing to the Ducks) just makes it bigger, I guess."

Just like the next one, and the next one after that, and we're not just talking about the other two clashes on the slate during Calgary's three-game homestand, which also includes visits from the Montreal Canadians and the Winnipeg Jets.

Thanks to the Flames odd schedule -- not playing any of the five Pacific Division teams until the second half of the season -- the Flames have three dates remaining with the Stars, with the final two coming during a home-and-home series March 24 and March 26.

Each team can have a big say in the other's playoff fate.

"They've been extremely hot," Flames winger Alex Tanguay said of the Stars, who have won five of six and are enjoying a 6-1-2 spree kicked off with their 3-2 overtime win over the Flames on Feb. 16.

"For us, we've got to get back winning right away, and this gives us an opportunity. I wish we play them every night, quite honestly, because you win a game and it gives you the opportunity to move up right away."

If the impact of Sunday's game isn't enough for their minds, the Flames also know the importance of turning their home-ice fortunes in a hurry.

Not only are they winless in their last four at the 'Dome, blowing a lead in all of those defeats, the Flames have just three victories in their last 10 at home -- 3-5-2.

Even though he and his teammates haven't given the Sea of Red much reason to be excited lately, Tanguay is hoping for a boost.

"We need our fans to give us a lift Sunday. It's a huge game. It's a playoff game and we need those points," he pleaded. "We need to have them (behind us). We need to get them going early by playing good. This is a game we have to win.

"The points are going to be crucial from now on."


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