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Flames upbeat as they head into 'Death Valley'

Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla (R) celebrates his 500th goal with teammate goalie Miikka Kiprusoff during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in Calgary, Alberta, January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Todd Korol

Todd Korol/Reuters

Officially, the Honda Centre is on Katella Avenue, just off the 57 Freeway and down the street from Disneyland, aka The Happiest Place On Earth. But for the Calgary Flames, it may as well be Death Valley.

For reasons that no one can exactly explain, the Flames have had more problem winning here than any place else in the NHL for going on a dozen years now - and it matters only because Calgary opens a three-game road trip on Monday against the Ducks, four points behind the eighth-place Minnesota Wild and needing a big week to get back into the Western Conference playoff race. If the Flames' road woes (10-14-4 this year) continue, they could be sunk by the time the Vancouver Canucks show up in Calgary this coming Saturday night. If they manage to turn it around here, then in San Jose and Phoenix after that, they could be in the race for the duration. It is that close - and these games are that meaningful.

Calgary is 0-9-4 in their last 13 appearances in Anaheim dating back to January, 2004, their last win; and 1-13-9 in their last 23 games there. Coach Brent Sutter had a funny line about that post-practice the other day, saying he wasn't aware it had been "50 years" since the team last won in Anaheim. Not 50, but it sure feels like that sometimes. The last time they won, Toni Lydman played for Calgary. Now he's a Duck. And if memory serves, team captain Jarome Iginla wasn't in the line-up the last time they won because of the flu or some other ailment. Certainly, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has never won for Calgary in Anaheim, and at 299 career victories, if he can reverse that direction tonight, it would be a sweet way to get to the 300-win plateau, something only 26 goalies in NHL history have accomplished previously.

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The Flames had the weekend off after defeating the slumping Chicago Blackhawks at home Friday night, which put everyone in an upbeat frame-of-mind. The Flames continue to patch and adjust their line-up up front, with regulars Lee Stempniak (ankle), Curtis Glencross (knee) and David Moss (foot) up front. At the moment, the second line consists of three players who started the year elsewhere - Michael Cammalleri (Montreal), Blair Jones (Tampa) and Krys Kolanos (Abbotsford).

If it seems as if all the scoring eggs are in one basket (Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen), well that's how it has to be at the moment. Tanguay is back playing again, after missing 19 games with a neck injury, and that's always a dilemma for Sutter - who to play on Iginla's left side. Both Tanguay and Cammalleri have had success with Iginla, but they are completely different players, Tanguay a pure playmaker, Cammalleri a noted finisher. At the moment, Tanguay is in that spot and his presence will help if any of these games get to a shootout, considering he scored 10 times that way last year.

Last year, it took 97 points to land eighth in the West; the way things are unfolding now, it may take as few as 92 this time around. Iginla estimated it at 90 anyway and noted, to post-game Friday: "More than anything, we just have to climb.

"We know we need to get on a streak here. It's important to get the winning feeling going and climb. We think we can make it."

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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