Flames Know Way To San Jose 

Sweep Opening Two Games of Conference Final 

May 11th, 2004

The shifty eyes of the formerly ultra-confident Ron Wilson told the whole story.

You'd look bewildered too if you'd lost your team somewhere on the way to the rink.

Whatever happened to the Sharks who dominated much of Game One of this Western Conference final series with Calgary?

Wherever they disappeared to, the imposters Wilson dressed for the opening period last night in San Jose were a brutal replacement, the gang from Calgary revving up their own game to supersonic and putting the lights out on the Sharks early while gaining an improbable 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 victory.

This was prototypical Flames hockey, a controlled effort yet played at high speed and a far cry from the much looser run and gun game that opened this series, Calgary very much imposing its defensive game on the listless Sharks, the latter waking up too late to save themselves then fading without a peep into the night when the going got tough.

It seems impossible to believe now, five weeks into the post-season, that the Calgary Flames, whom many felt wouldn't even make the playoffs, now sit only two wins away from challenging for the Stanley Cup itself.


While there were many questions as to whether or not Calgary deserved to win the opening game in this series and San Jose coach Ron Wilson was certainly on hand to remind you of that fact, there was little doubt in this game which was the better team through 60 minutes.

"I think we were extremely proud of our first period," said Andrew Ference on FAN960 after the game. "We followed through in the third."

We were a lot better in our zone," said Flames coach Darryl Sutter after the game. "I thought our two centermen, Yelle and Nilson, were two really good players for us tonight."

While the Flames did rely on a few large saves from uber-goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, those quality chances surrendered to San Jose were no more than might have been expected in a game where the Flames largely stymied any effort the Sharks made to gain any momentum.

Kiprusoff has been virtually unbeatable this season in games where Calgary surrenders fewer than 25 shots, San Jose managing only 18 in this game with few of the relatively hair-raising kind.

Kiprusoff and the Flames are now 9-1 this playoff year in games where they surrender two or fewer goals, carrying on their season long trend of dominance when they have their house in order.

Perhaps emblematic of this game was the shift following San Jose's only goal, an early second period marker by Alyn McCauley, where the Flames came back the next shift to dominate with the line of Martin Gelinas, Craig Conroy and Jarome Iginla.

Much of the credit for the 2-0 series lead in this series, aside from kudos to Kiprusoff, has to go to Calgary's second line of Marcus Nilson, Shean Donovan and Ville Nieminen, the trio dominating offensively for the second game in a row.

"If it wasn't for our depth, we wouldn't even be in the playoffs," admitted Ference.

The dominating effort of that trio seemed to spring free the previously smothered Iginla, the latter notching his first goal of the series and having several other opportunities to score.

Calgary is now a heroic 7-2 on the road in this playoff year, an incredible stat in itself, heading home with the hammer in this series. Flames won their fourth playoff game in a row.

The Flames opened the scoring, a double banker, Marcus Nilson wheeling into the San Jose zone and rocketing a shot that deflected off two Shark defencemen then behind Evgeny Nabokov, stunning the crowd of 17,496 into submission with one of the fastest opening goal of a playoff game in Calgary Flames history, tying Joey Mullen's record set in 1986.

The Flames never looked back, bowling over the hapless and confused Sharks throughout the period, Calgary cementing its lead at 2-0 lead on a pretty play by Calgary's second line.

Nilson started a breakout with a beautiful pass up the middle to a curling Ville Nieminen who tapped a short pass onto the stick of a streaking Shean Donovan, the latter executing his by now familiar deke and curl around the outstretched pad of Nabokov at 10:35.

San Jose found their game in the second period, McCauley finally solving the riddle of Kiprusoff with a one-timer bullet over the Flame netminders shoulder at 5:26.

The goal seemed to give the Sharks a lift although the Flames battled them essentially even through the middle frame of the game before the Flames blew two through Nabokov in the third period.

Nieminen broke loose on a two on one at 12:35 of the third, tailing towards the centre of the ice and then looking pass while shooting over the outstretched blocker of an unprepared Nabokov.

Iginla added the final blow at 13:19, cutting down the wing and blistering a wrist shot past the blocker of Nabokov, extending his playoff scoring streak to six games.

This is the game the Flames might have been looking for in the opener, showing the Sharks they can easily skate with them if not dominate them, while adding a physical element San Jose might not have.

As to coach Wilson, the rhetoric coming out of the post-game scrum was different than his opening statements. He had ample reason to be cocky then but none after this one.

"He (Wilson after game one) was right in a lot of aspects," said Ference matter-of-factly. "They did play a strong game. He had every right to give his team that strong credit. We picked up our game a lot this time around."

And now its back to Calgary Thursday night, the wild Saddledome awaiting the Flames with no doubt a huge reception, the local boys having the chance to put a hammerlock on an opportunity to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1989.

And who woulda thunk that in October.





1 Marcus Nilson - a physical and creative presence all night, the lanky Swede scored a fluky goal but sent a heady pass up ice for the Donovan marker as well. If Kiprusoff is the trade of the year for Calgary, then the acquisition of Nilson is proving to be an extremely valuable addition as well. 

2 Shean Donovan - the winning goal on a brilliant breakaway but dominating all night as the Flames second line proved to be the difference. 

3 Robyn Regehr - The bulky Flames defenceman played a physical game on the Calgary blueline.

With the Sharks buzzing in opening the second period, Scott Hannnan snuck in from the point and drilled a one timer from the bottom of the face off circle, Kiprusoff reaching up for a miraculous glove save. Nabokov followed that up midway through the period by dragging his glove up to snare a Conroy shot away from an open net.

Trying to close on the puck in his own zone, Mike Commodore was drifted into the boards head first, Patrick Marleau guilty for the hit from behind in the opening two minutes of the second period, setting the tone for a brief Shark revival of sorts. You knew coach Wilson had said something to his troops in the first intermission when tiny Nils Ekman followed up the Marleau hit by totally ignoring the puck coming behind the Flames net in an attempt to throttle the supersized Regehr, bouncing off him like a fly hitting a three inch thick window.

The NHL embarrassed itself again with the short suspension handed to Darian Hatcher of the Detroit Red Wings for the head shot delivered to Calgary's Matthew Lombardi in the final game of the semi-finals with the Flames. NHL VP Colin Campbell talks a big game when he stresses he's looking to rid the NHL of such incidents but his subsequent punishments are consistently so low impact little deterrent can result. The time is long past for meaningful and painful penalties, beyond the monetary consequences of a short suspension to a large salaries player, so that a real deterrent effect can be achieved. Meanwhile, the speed of Lombardi continues to be denied to the Flames although Chuck Kobasew seems to be finding his niche as a replacement. . . . . Kyle McLaren was a surprise scratch for the Sharks with an undisclosed, but labeled upper body injury. . . . . . Chris Simon was the victim of two questionable calls by the officials, particularly after the referees had let the hit on Mike Commodore go unchallenged. . . . . Commodore was again the weakest link on the Calgary blue line, logging only 9:21 in ice time and clearly out of his element speedwise in the face of the swift counterattacking Sharks. . . . . . Both teams were zero for three on the power play . . . . Calgary was 52% in the faceoff circle, led by the dominating 75% from Stephane Yelle, a player who was only 40% successful in the first game of this series. Mike Ricci, who engaged in an ill-advised jousting match with Chris Simon through much of the game, was 53% to lead the Sharks. . . . . Robyn Regehr led the Flames with 24:47 in ice time. Scott Hannan, Iginla's shadow, was 27:19 for the Sharks. . . . . . Flames directed 20 shots at the San Jose net.

Gelinas Conroy Iginla 
Nieminen Nilson Donovan 
Simon Yelle Clark 
Oliwa Kobasew Saprykin

Regehr Montador 
Ference Commodore 
Warrener Leopold

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