'Nucks Out Last Flames in Thriller 

Flames Overtime Curse Continues

April 17th, 2004

So is this it, the early signal of an ignomious end to a beautiful season, the script all but written in the failures of playoffs past?

Or can the Calgary Flames finally win a Game 7 showdown? In a game for the ages, the Vancouver Canucks roared into an early 4-0 lead only to see Calgary rocket back to tie before the end of regulation, the near choke of the boys from the Left Coast averted with a Brendan Morrison 5-4 winner after 1:02:28 of overtime, lifting this opening round playoff series into a final, decisive game seven showdown in Vancouver on Monday night.

For the Flames as a franchise, this night would be a depressingly familiar script in front of 19,289 rabid fans at the Saddledome, the eighth playoff overtime in a row Calgary has lost, their last extra session victory in the post-season occurring in 1991 on Theo Fleury's famous steal of a Mark Messier pass in Game six against Edmonton.

Compounding this depressing state of affairs is the Morrison goal gave the Canucks four straight playoff overtime wins over Calgary, counting the three Vancouver ratcheted up in recovering from a 3-1 series deficit in 1994.

If that wasn't enough, it was the seventh time in succession a Calgary team had failed to eliminate an opponent from a playoff series when it had the opportunity.

In short, even if all of that history has virtually nothing to do with the crew currently wearing the red and white, this was still a night that could have eliminated most of the bad karma hanging over this franchise these last 15 years, a bad aura that was instead reinforced, the worm wiggling its way back into Flames' consciousness.

Would it matter if we said the local soldiers fell like ten-pins in fierce competition or that the survivors had given it all they had?

Is anyone going to care years from now if they knew Ville Nieminen clanged the crossbar in the second overtime session?

Will we remember the outstanding clutch, Alex Auld pokecheck of the puck off Martin Gelinas stick when the Flames winger sprang in on a breakaway early in period six, just as we remember Kirk McLean's brilliant stop of Robert Reichel in Game 7 in 1994, a series altering moment?

Not just yet, because t here are no reasons good enough, no excuses worth mentioning that matter in the springtime of the NHL playoffs.

If Game 7 is lost, then we'll remember opportunities lost, chances squelched. That's the way it goes.

Winning is the only thing that matters at this level and when you can't grit your teeth to pound the nails in the coffin, the victim screaming for mercy inside and 19,289 spectators howling their approval . . . . . well, you deserve what's coming to you so save the explanations, the injuries, the cries of foul.

The Flames had control of this series, Game six on home ice, the serpent planted under foot, ready for the axe. Now they have to win their third in a row on enemy ice.

Then again, if you're looking for someone to be depressed, don't look in the direction of Calgary coach Darryl Sutter.

"I think we showed a tremendous amount of courage and character tonight," Sutter said after the game on FAN960, adding this series might well come down to the last man standing.

"It's kind of an attrition deal here now," he said. "Just trying to hang on."

That this game should end in such an extraordinary fashion seemed improbable midway through the second period, Vancouver up 4-0 and the Flames still tying their laces in the dressing room, outshot 21-6 at that point, outhit, outhustled and generally outwitted.

But Oleg Saprykin's controversial deflection review - goal that was ruled to be scored by Robyn Regehr - through the wickets of rookie goaltender Auld only 16 seconds after Geoff Sanderson had given Vancouver its 4-0 edge signaled a pulse, a heartbeat somewhere in those red uniforms.

When Ville Nieminen scored on a hustling effort only 2:06 later, pushing a loose puck ahead and charging across Auld's crease, the improbable suddenly looked possible, the crowd now back in it and willing the Flames on.

Martin Gelinas' deflection went through Auld at 1:14 of the third period, the Saddledome alight once again and finally, at 12:56, Chris Clark completed the unlikely comeback, deflecting yet another shot through Auld's legs.

From there it was tackle hockey, a hacking and whacking version of the game the referees chose to ignore, giving the players full scope to decide it themselves.

All that remained was the final death blow . . . . but Vancouver spoiled the party, Morrison fighting off Marcus Nilson around the net, allowing the Canuck forward to gain a step, cross the Calgary crease and deposit the puck behind Miikka Kiprusoff in the same spot Pavel Bure did on Mike Vernon in game 7 in 1994. "It was a great start, their great finish, a super overtime," said Vancouver coach Marc Crawford after it ended on FAN960. "It was a classic hockey game."

Yes it was.

Kiprusoff would face 51 shots on the night, Auld 40.

Vancouver finished the night one for five on the powerplay, Calgary zero for four, including an extra man advantage in overtime on which they managed to generate only one shot.

Game 7. Vancouver. Monday night.

Did we mention Calgary hasn't won a Game 7 since Joel Otto twisted his skate to deflect Jim Peplinski's pass through Kirk McLean, saving the Flames Stanley Cup bid with an opening round overtime winner in 1989.

Yeah, I'm tired of hearing about it too.





1) Robyn Regehr - With the Flames down to five defencemen, Regher would eventually gain three assists and log 43:21 in ice time. 

2) Ed Jovanovski - Dirty, mean, logging a paralyzing amount of ice time of 40:27 while destroying any Flame unlucky enough to cross his path. Got gonged himself once too. 

3) Brendan Morrison - Got the winner and over 34 minutes of ice time. He may have saved the Canucks season.

With Martin Gelinas breaking in alone early in the second overtime period, Auld thrust out his stick for a masterful pokecheck to keep the game rolling.

Geoff Sanderson was checking for a pass swirling around the end boards, swivelling his cheek just enough for Denis Gauthier's shoulder to cave it in and send the Vancouver winger to the ice at the 16 minute mark of the first period.

Regehr's ice time was 43:21 led all players. Jordan Leopold was 41:11 and Rhett Warrener was 40:18. Andrew Ference, a slacker, was 39:30. Jarome Iginla led forwards at 32:28 but Ville Nieminen was also over 30:45 and Craig Conroy 30:38 among the forward group. . . . . Jovanovski was 40:28 for the Canucks and Mattias Ohlund 40:20. Brendan Morrison at 34:20 led Canuck forwards. Four other Canuck forwards - but not Markus Naslund - also had 30+ minutes. . . . . Those might be telling statistics with Game 7 only two days away . . . . . .Flames were 52% in the faceoff circle led by Yelle's 69%. Morrison was 57% for the Canucks. . . . . . With Gauthier falling to an unspecified injury midway through regulation time, the absence of Toni Lydman, normally a horse for ice time, became keenly felt, particularly with Mike Commodore struggling with moving the puck out of his zone. 

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

Regehr Leopold 
Gauthier Warrener 
Ference Commodore

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