Series Preview: Calgary & San Jose
Calgarypuck Playoff Coverage 2004

Rick Charlton
May 7th, 2004

In the NHL's Original 30, chances like this might not come along that often.

All players grow up dreaming of the opportunity to make it to a Stanley Cup final, to play for glory in front of packed arena's and delirious fans.

Yet there are many players who spend entire careers, even Hall Of Fame careers, not only never winning a championship but never even getting a sniff of one.

So we enter this San Jose/Calgary Western Conference final with two groupings of players who, by and large, have never gotten this far, many still early in their careers, many only now beginning to believe the impossible might actually be possible, the silver thought of carrying a Stanley Cup around a frenzied rink beginning to tickle the backs of their minds.

It's only half way there but really only a quarter way to simply get to The Big Show, the oh so rare a chance now within grasp.

Lose now and you'll die a death of a thousand regrets.

Yet this is a series that appears so close that it may well come down to the intangible of which side wants it more.

As Wayne Gretzky once said in those heady days of the early 1980's, when it was still unclear if the Oilers had the "right stuff," only those willing to sacrifice the most can emerge with the right to play for a championships.

"No guts, no glory," was how The Great One put it.

How appropriate for this series.

GOALTENDING - Can you really say there's much of a difference between Evgeny Nabakov's .941 save percentage and 1.34 GAA versus the numbers of his doppelganger Miikka Kiprusoff, who sports a .931 save percentage and a 1.92 GAA? Not really, particularly considering Kiprusoff was facing two of the highest scoring teams in the NHL and was able to boast two 1-0 shutouts to eliminate Detroit. There's another story besides the numbers though, Kiprusoff carrying on his play from the regular season and being a virtual wall when the game is on the line and when he gets the right help from his team, with three 2-1 victories this playoff year and three shutouts, two by scores of 1-0 to eliminate Detroit. We'll give the modest advantage to the Vezina Trophy nominee. Advantage Calgary.

DEFENCE - Toni Lydman is skating in practice again and may appear in this series, giving Calgary a skillful boost on its blueline but the Flames are also missing Denis Gauthier, another regular, for the duration. It might also be fair to observe that Mike Commodore and Steve Montador have been playing a little over their heads . . . . but that's what you might have expected the Flames would have needed to advance as far as they have. The Sharks, meanwhile, have one of the better quality defence corps in the NHL, with no particular stars but a very solid one through six grouping. Mike Rathje, Brad Stuart, Kyle McLaren and an emerging Scott Hannan won't be taking a back seat to Rhett Warrener, Jordan Leopold, Robyn Regehr and Andrew Ference/Lydman. San Jose gets the nod until Lydman shows up. Advantage San Jose.

FORWARDS - Chris Simon is likely back for the Flames and it seems probable Scott Thornton will return for the Sharks but San Jose may be without another key performer, Selke nominee Alyn McAuley. On paper, once you get by the big shooters, the Sharks appear to have more pure offensive depth with skillful guys like Johnathon Cheechoo, Alex Koryluk and Niko Dimitrakos but the Flames have been getting solid production and a great two way effort from their second line of Ville Nieminen, Marcus Nilson and Shean Donovan. Similarly, for every Mike Ricci the Sharks can counter with a Stephane Yelle, although San Jose's Wayne Primeau has also been impressive this playoff year. Even Calgary's apparent advantage with the NHL's top shooter, Jarome Iginla, is a little dodgy with Patrick Marleau notching seven goals in 11 games, although most would concede the Calgary captain brings more to the table than just goals. Still, overall, this looks to be a dead heat so long as McAuley is out of the mix. Advantage None.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Calgary has been periodically dreadful killing penalties this post-season, yet seemed to hold the fort when they needed to in the clutch. San Jose appears to have more consistency in this area, giving up only three goals in 43 man disadvantage opportunities so far in the post-season. The powerplays for both teams haven't been particularly brilliant, the Sharks with 8 power play goals and the Flames with seven. In a series that figures to be low scoring, penalty killing might be a decisive element. Advantage San Jose

COACHING - Two Jack Adam's finalists going at each other in the Western Final is a good indication that neither appears to have any particular advantage of the other. Some might characterize Darryl Sutter as a screaming cow patty kicker just off the farm but if there's one thing we've learned in the last year and a bit it's that he's as smart and learned in the ways of the game as anyone in the business, including his more technically oriented counterpart Ron Wilson. In the case of the latter, he's had a spectacular rebound from being drop-kicked out of Washington and appears to have mellowed a bit with an out of control ego now under a tighter mask. He took a floundering San Jose and molded it into one of the more dramatic one season turnarounds in the last decade. Advantage None

INTANGIBLES - They've already beaten the President's Trophy champion and the Northwest Division champion and they've done it by wading through a ton of adversity. San Jose hasn't necessarily had to pass the character test yet and may be fully capable of doing so but the Flames go into this contest already knowing what they're capable of in the most extreme of conditions. That's worth its weight in gold.

The formula that has gotten Calgary to this point remains obvious and relevant. The Flames are 8-1 when surrendering two goals or less, when they're giving the mistake-free Kiprusoff opportunities to see all the pucks directed his way. He's been shelled for five goals in three games in the post-season already, however, and the Flames are 0-4 overall when they've given up three or more goals, usually after abandoning Kiprusoff to to his own fate.

The key matchup in this series might be the battle between Jarome Iginla and Scott Hannan, the latter a young defenceman emerging from the shadows and beginning to make a name for himself in the NHL. The Flames probably like that matchup a whole lot more than they did Iginla's pairing against Mattias Ohlund and Darian Hatcher where the Calgary captain blistered the former and struggled to get around the latter. Still, Iginla was in on both winning goals in Calgary's two 1-0 victories to close out the Detroit series. It will be Hannan's dubious job to keep Captain Clutch at bay. Advantage Calgary.

CALLING THE SERIES - Many prognosticators, including this one, will concede a modest advantage to the Sharks in certain areas but the Flames seem to have a swaggering, special quality about them right now that can allow an inferior team to overcome all the odds stacked against it.

That's if you're conceding Calgary is the inferior team which might be a stretch given San Jose won 43 games in the regular season and Calgary 42.

This is easily a pick 'em series, with no shame in arguing either side of the coin, yet I like the wind of destiny pushing the fanny of Calgary. So improbable. So unlikely. So . . . . unFlamelike.

So I'll stop underestimating them as I did in the first two series of this playoff year and call the Red to move on for a chance at the brass ring.

No guts, no glory.

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