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Flames Edge Sharks in Round 1 Opener
Calgary 3 San Jose 2

Jason Parkin
April 9th, 2008

Playoffs are back! Every hockey fan's favorite time of year has finally arrived, with the Flames punching their ticket to the dance in the final week of the regular season. The car flags are up, the red jerseys are out and the city of Calgary is jacked up to a party mode rivaled only by the Stampede itself. This is Calgary's 4th straight playoff appearance, and in the previous 3 seasons they played a total of 6 playoff rounds, winning 3 and losing 3, but have failed to advance past the 1st round in both 2006 and 2007. Will this year by any different? Most indications say no. The Flames find themselves up against a beast of an opponent, the best NHL team in the 2nd half of the season, the San Jose Sharks. The Flames sputtered and surged all season long, winning streaks followed by losing streaks causing headache and heartache every step of the way. On paper comparing rosters, it's a pretty even match-up. Both teams are loaded with top-end talent. For Iginla there's Thornton. For Kiprusoff there's Nabokov. For Phaneuf there's Campbell. They have an answer to every one of the Flame's star players, and conversely, the Flames have an answer to each of theirs. For 4 days we've seen comparisons, heard the predictions, and tried to digest all the facts. But the largest fact remains - at least 4 games of hockey have to be played. Game on!

On The Line
While every playoff game is important, game 1 gives a team the chance to set a tone for the series. The series won't be lost or won tonight, but Calgary can steal home ice advantage with a win in either of the 1st 2 games. Most people around here would consider a split in San Jose a huge success. For San Jose, they are trying to continue their impressive end to the regular season and dispose of the nay-sayers that claim they can't handle the post-season.

The Flow
An entertaining first period started out great for the road team, as just 2:47 in Stephane Yelle won the draw back to Robyn Regehr, who wristed a floater towards the net. Yelle got his stick on it just below the crossbar, and it bounced between Nabokov's pads to give the Flames a 1-0 lead. Then just 2 and a half minutes later on a Flames powerplay after a Kyle Mclaren high-stick, Jarome Iginla showed great hand-eye coordination when he watched a Huselius shot deflect into the air in front of him, batting it to Daymond Langkow who kicked it to Phaneuf who was happy to pounce on it and give the Flames a very quick 2 goal lead. That lead was very short lived however, as 49 seconds later a series of bad plays by the Flames defenders and Kiprusoff led to Ryan Clowe scoring into the open net after Sarich and Kipper both went the wrong way on the play. Calgary weathered the Sharks momentum and Kiprusoff made some great saves to end the 1st period and send the Flames to the dressing room with the 2-1 head-start.

The 2nd period was tense as both teams pressed hard for the next goal. The Sharks had a few nail-biting front-of-net scrambles but Kiprusoff kept the puck out, and at the other end Kristian Huselius was re-acquainted with his playoff arch-nemesis; the cross bar. Hit dinged the iron after a beautiful no look pass by Lombardi that gave him the set-up all alone in front of Nabokov. At 16:21, another Iginla playoff moment to remember took place. He picked the puck up in his own zone, out-muscled the highly talked about Brian Campbell who was draped all over him all the way down the ice to somehow get the puck to the net. The puck didn't immediately go in, and it looked like the Sharks had escaped danger as Iginla's momentum carried him through the crease and into the post to knock the net off its moorings. But just before that happened Stephane Yelle capitalized on the loose puck and got it across the line a millisecond before the net came off. After 5 minutes of review, the goal was allowed and the Flames had their 2nd questionable goal of the game and a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd frame.

The final frame had a frantic pace with San Jose pressing hard to find a spark and get their 2nd goal. First, Joe Thornton had a breakaway with the ice still wet but Kiprusoff turned him away with his right pad. Then the Sharks had a mid-period powerplay and threw everything they could muster at Kiprusoff who turned away every shot, some in spectacular fashion. The Flames were able to weather the storm until Ron Wilson pulled his goalie, and with 58 seconds remaining an un-touched Ryan Clowe scored his 2nd of the game with a goal nearly identical to his first, setting up a heart-wrenching, fist clenching, TV remote throwing final minute. The Flames were paralyzed and were unable to clear the zone, and San Jose had about 4 quality scoring chances in the final seconds, but Kiprusoff turned everything away and the buzzer sounded for a 3-2 Flames win and plenty of heart-attacks in the Calgary area.

Three Stars

1 - Miikka Kiprusoff : Flames don't win this game if he doesn't shine, and shine he did. He faced 39 shots, and stopped 37. The red-headed playoff monster from hell is back.
2 - Jarome Iginla: 2 assists and a herculean like play to charge the puck down the ice for the Flames 3rd and eventual game winning goal. Led all forwards in icetime with 23:32.
3 - Stephane Yelle: Wasn't even supposed to play today, but the late addition to the lineup proved to be the trump card as sandbox potted 2 clutch goals to go along with some great penalty killing and a +2 rating.

Big Save

3 minutes into the 3rd period, James Vandermeer took a holding penalty setting up a Sharks powerplay. San Jose had countless chances, and none were better than Patrick Marleau who was all alone in front of Kiprusoff a little to the right of centre. He deked backhand and appeared to have Kipper beat but #34 showed insane flexibility and got his left pad out, and appeared to make the save with his skate blade to keep the score 3-1.

Big Hit
A hard hitting game from both sides, but 2 come to mind. In the first period Dion Phaneuf caught Patrick Rissmiller sleeping and the 2 met with a bone-crushing collision near centre ice. Not long after, Owen Nolan caught Jonathan Cheechoo off balance and sent him sprawling backwards over the blueline.

The Goat
Nobody really deserves it tonight, so no goat will be awarded. However, if the Sharks scored in the final seconds the goat WOULD go to Craig Conroy for not clearing the puck when he had the golden opportunity to do so with about 30 seconds left. He was aiming for the open net, and taking the time to do that almost cost Calgary the game.

Mr. Clutch
Miikka Kiprusoff. It has to be so frustrating for the Sharks to put that many pucks on net, and get that many quality chances and come up empty so often. Kiprusoff is made for the playoffs. Runner up: Jarome Iginla. That play he made on the 3rd Calgary goal brought back memories of the 2004 playoff run when he did that on a game-to-game basis.

Odds and Ends
Coming home with the split would be nice, but... split SHMIT! Lets see them grab another win tomorrow and really put themselves in the driver's seat for this round. The nice thing for San Jose is they get to go right back at 'er tomorrow. No waiting, no dwelling...I almost wish now we had the break between games. Anders Eriksson was a healthy scratch for David "Halestorm" Hale who played a pretty good game. Shots were 39-23 in favour of San Jose. Dion Phaneuf led the Flames with 6 shots and led all skaters with 28:42 on the ice. Add a goal on top of that, and Phaneuf quietly had a very good game. Only 5 minor penalties were handed out in total, 3 to San Jose and 2 to Calgary. Kristian Huselius seemed disinterested in the game at times, but aside from him and Cory Sarich I thought every other skater was great. The lines were mixed and matched all evening, with Jarome Iginla often taking Godard's spot on the 4th line. That was one of the most exciting games I've watched in years. In those dying seconds, hands up...who passed out? I seriously needed 10 minutes to calm down before my hands stopped shaking so I could type.

Next up
The 2 teams stay right where they are as they get right back at it tomorrow night at 8:00 pm. Catch the game on CBC, or the Fan 960.

Lines: (To start)
Tanguay - Langkow - Iginla
Huselius - Conroy - Nolan
Primeau - Lombardi- Moss
Godard - Yelle - Nystrom

Phaneuf - Hale
Vandermeer - Aucoin
Sarich - Regehr



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