Flames Oust Sharks, Head to Final 

Gelinas Scores Third Straight Series Winner 

May 19th, 2004

There's only one thing left now, the impossible suddenly in sight, the Calgary Flames among the final two competing for a Stanley Cup for the first time since 1989.

Let's repeat that. A Stanley Cup. The first Canadian team to advance this far since 1994. The former chumps now true champs and still going for more as the calendar clicks closer to June.

A memorable 3-1 victory last night in front of 19,289 delirious fans at the Saddledome eliminated the San Jose Sharks, Calgary the first team in the modern era to pass three division champions on the way to the Cup final, now needing to eliminate a fourth, either Tampa or Philadelphia, to claim hockey's ultimate prize.

With his heady second period goal, Martin Gelinas has proven a decisive factor through these playoffs, eliminating Vancouver with a Game 7 overtime marker, eliminating Detroit with a Game 6 overtime winner and now dealing the decisive blow to San Jose.

Calgary started this improbable, if not miraculous campaign as one of the Original 30 and one of the lower tier at that, few giving a franchise seven years removed from the playoffs any opportunity to break the streak.

In fact, if there was one bet safer the last seven years than Calgary pulling an annual folderoo in the regular season it would have to have been the Flames propensity through 15 years of cashing in their chips in the first round even if they did qualify for the post-season.

So pardon our astonishment as this long, long famine has suddenly turned into a gorging feast.

Finish above .500 for the first time in eight seasons. Check.

Make the playoffs. Check.

Win a playoff round. Check.

Win a playoff overtime game for the first time since 1991. Check.

Win a game seven overtime after losing three such tragedies in the 1990's. Check.

Knock off the President's Trophy Champions in the second round. Check.

And now wiping out the Sharks in six after being given up for dead when they had dropped two in a row on home ice last week, winning in San Jose in stunning fashion and putting the Sharks on the golf course by being the first team in this series victorious on home ice.

Only the Stanley Cup remains.

Nothing else is left.

Calgary captain Jarome Iginla led his team once again with a large effort game, scoring a power play goal late in the first period, his tenth of the post-season to lead all players, elevating his game once again when the moment called for it, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP now his to lose in the coming seven game series.

The Calgary captain took a pass from Craig Conroy near the San Jose blueline, deftly rifling the puck between the wickets of both Scott Hannan and Evgeni Nabokov for the all important first goal, this series ending in wins for whichever team managed to strike first.

Flames took a 2-0 lead on a classic rookie mistake, Marcel Goc of the Sharks failing to tie up his competing centre, Conroy, the latter jumping past Goc and feathering a pass to a charging Gelinas who whipped a shot through the five-hole on Nabokov at 13:02 of the second period.

As thoroughly as the Flames were dominating to that point the Sharks were not without the occasional chance, finally capitalizing at 16:14 of the second when Alyn McCauley pounded a loose puck through Kiprusoff to draw the Sharks within a single goal.

The marker snapped a shutout streak of 117:27 for Miikka Kiprusoff in the Calgary net.

That is where it stayed the rest of the way, the Sharks increasingly pressing the issue but rarely getting anything particularly dangerous, Calgary finally playing a stunningly effective final five minutes to close the door completely.

It was Calgary outracing San Jose defenders to icings and loose pucks through those momentous closing minutes, the better team, the team that wanted it most, finally getting it done.

In the end, it was a Shark rifling a puck the length of the ice in the final second to put this away, Robyn Regehr getting the last goal of the series, a marker almost unnoticed by the delirious crowd who might be surprised tomorrow morning to read the score was 3-1.

"It was the longest minute of my life but you know what, when it was over, it was best minute of my life," said Conroy, who had two assists, after the game.

Nabokov was part of this story as well, keeping the Sharks close enough to challenge in spite of numerous point blank opportunities, finally facing 28 Calgary shots while his counterpart, Kiprusoff, faced 19.

The indefatigible Flames goalie was sharp when he had to be but the Calgary defensive scheme might have been the better story, as it has been all season.

As many analysts took pains to point out before this series began, San Jose may have had more dangling talent but Calgary was dominant through much of the last two games with deft little passes, clever plays and hard skating, then closed each game down with solid positional play.

"I thought we showed up in game five and played good," said Shean Donovan of the series on FAN960. "I didn't think the first four games were Flames hockey. Games 5 and 6 is the way we needed to play."

It would probably also be fair to say that Calgary's four line depth in general was better than San Jose's.

In the end, the first team to win a home game also won the series, a fact that didn't go unnoticed in the San Jose dressing room.

"We gave everything we had," said Vincent Damphousse. "I think you just got to give credit to Calgary. We didn't win in our own building. You can't expect to win (a series) when you don't win in your own building."

And so Team Destiny, the little team in the little market that could, moves on to compete for the ultimate prize.

"I think everyobdy truly realizes what a special opportunity this is," said Andrew Ference.

"It's an awesome feeling," said Iginla. "The fans, its awesome to share it with them. We're going to enjoy this . . . . and refocus (for the final)."

"There's a lot of work to be done," he said.

That starts Tuesday night, Calgary now waiting to see whom they will face.

In the Stanley Cup final.






1 Jarome Iginla - The Conn Smythe Trophy beckons now, a key goal and a true power all night. 

2 Martin Gelinas - Three consecutive series eliminating goals. Hard to believe last summer had him as Topic Number One on the rumour mill as a cost cutting chop. 

3 Craig Conroy - Two assists and the veteran embarrasses San Jose rookie Goc on the decisive winning goal

Calgary was holding a 1-0 lead when a loose puck dribbled through the crease on a San Jose powerplay, the open net beckoning a guy who doesn't miss, Vincent Damphousse, But Jordan Leopold came out of no where to lift Damphousse's stick and allow the puck to twist past the post.

Eight minutes into the first period, Hannan puts his stick on Iginla's chest and kept going, pitchforking the Calgary captain into a high arc into the boards.

"Calgary and Tampa seem like they're destined," said Florida GM Rick Dudley during an intermission break on FAN960. . . . . . Somewhere, deep in the hearts of the most fervent Craig Button hater, must be some slender thread of forgiveness for Craig Button, Martin Gelinas one of the key acquisitions of his failed reign. . . . . . "I thought game one was also a turning point where we had 52 shots and they scored in overtime," said Damphousse. . . . . Calgary was one for four on the powerplay, San Jose zero for three. . . . . Scott Hannan led the Sharks with 29:58 in ice time while Ference, unnoticed, registered 25:39 for the Flames. . . . .Calgary was 61% in the faceoff circle, led by Craig Conroy at 65%, Stephane Yelle at 62% and Marcus Nilson at 61%. Curtis Brown was 45% for the Sharks. . . . . . You know something was wrong with Alyn McCauley, the Selke nominee, when he plays only 11:43 in ice time and takes only three faceoffs. And scored a goal. Whatever was ailing him was likely a key factor in the final game as well. . . . . Flames were presented with the Clarence Campbell Trophy after the game by NHL VP Bill Daly but, as it goes with these things, the trophy was accepted, carted off and then put on the back burner. Only one thing counts now. The Stanley Cup. 

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

Regehr Montador 
Ference Commodore 
Warrener Leopold

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