The league’s best road team, San Jose, traveled to Calgary planning to regain momentum in the series and take the lead.
The overwhelming sea of red in the stands seemed to have no immediate effect on the Sharks as Ryan Clowe quickly netted a goal a minute and a half into the game. Just over two minutes later, Patrick Marleau tipped one past Kiprusoff making the score 2-0.
Before you could change the channel, San Jose’s Douglas Murray put the biscuit in the basket. Calgary’s phenomenal playoff goaltender, Mika Kiprusoff was yanked out of the net for letting three goals in on five shots.
This was the San Jose team that the NHL world was expecting to see in this series: a dominant force and a Stanley Cup favorite. Right from the get-go, there seemed no stopping San Jose until Calgary’s Cory Sarich laid out Marleau. The crowd erupted and got back to its feet after a discouraging first four minutes.
The hit lit up the Flames’ bench and led to a power-play goal in the second half of the period. Phaneuf threw the puck to the net as it grazed off the shin pad of Flames’ captain Jerome Iginla.
Suddenly, it was once again a hockey game. The Flames headed into their locker room with their adrenaline pumping and the Sharks saw their lead cut to two.
The Flames stepped on the ice in the beginning of the second with an obvious physical presence that the Sharks did not have. Their bodies were flying and the forecheck was unbearable for the San Jose defensemen.
Halfway into the second, the successful Calgary power play was at it again. The puck was thrown in front of Evgeni Nabokov and slowly slid across his crease. Four San Jose players glared at the puck like they were watching a fascinating film until Daymond Langkow stuffed it in five hole.
This was now a one-goal game and the Saddledome erupted. Meanwhile, the Sharks looked dead.
Their feet were flat, passes were off, and the hands just were not there. The team which erupted immediately out of the gates was now trying to defend their once three-goal lead. The second period ended just as that, a 3-2 lead in favor of the Pacific Division Champions.
The third period began just as anyone could have expected. San Jose coach Ron Wilson obviously had nothing to say to his team as they looked just as they did since the 16th minute of the first period, flat as week-old soda.
The pressure of the vicious Flames forecheck became too much for Sharks big man, Kyle McLaren, as he failed to clear out the puck from his own zone. It was kept in by Calgary and Dion Phaneuf was dished a pass at the point. He wound up and threw it towards the net and every San Jose Sharks fan became numb. It was a tie game and it was in the worst fashion.
The puck bounced off Sharks’ defenseman Marc-Edward Vlasic and he put it into his own net. That 3-0 lead was now a distant memory: this game was now knotted at three.
Sharks’ leaders Joe Thornton and Brian Campbell might not have even laced up the skates tonight as their performance was non-existent. The reason the Sharks finished off the season 18-2-2 was the physical and offensive presence of these two MVP-caliber players. For the Sharks to be successful, they must perform, but tonight was not their night.
There was no putting out of these Flames now; they were scorching.
The chants of “Go Flames go, go Flames go” were echoing throughout the arena and fueled the Flames’ passion. At 16:15 of the third period, ex-Shark hero Owen Nolan proved that he was a hero in another city now. He squeezed a shot under the arm of Vezina Trophy favorite Evgeni Nabokov, putting a dagger through the hearts of the San Jose Sharks.
Calgary came all the way back from trailing 3-0 in the opening minutes of the first to win the game, 4-3.
Could this be the end of the Sharks?
They are favored all across the league to conquer Lord Stanley, but now they have the Flames standing directly in their path. With the Flames now leading the series 2-1, they have some large mountains to climb and high expectations to fill.
The Sharks are back into a very similar situation they have been in the past few years: being considered choke artists.
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