Sunday, May 16, 2004

Cowtown Collapse

It was a second period from hell for the Calgary Flames, as that usually dependable rock in the nets named Kiprusoff, floundered terribly in the middle frame of game four. The hard hitting, beat the Sharks to the puck style of games one and two seemingly disappeared, defensively the Flames left far too many Sharks in front of the net un-attended to, resulting in four goals more than enough on this day to defeat the Flames and tie the series. It was all San Jose in a 4-2 victory over the Flames, the second loss in a row that they've suffered at the Saddledome.

Calgary simply got off their game plan, forwards, defence and goal none appeared to be on the same page in this game, and following the disappointing effort of Thursday night these Flames are starting to die down, still warm embers but no roaring fire, suddenly the Sharks are the team with the momentum, the team that seems to have the will to win. It wasn’t like that going into game three, the Flames had a chance to deliver the knock out blow and twice at home have come up flat, worse they come up out worked, a major sin for any Darryl Sutter team.

Jonathon CheeChoo and Mike Rathje scored early in the second as the Sharks dominated the period, seemingly scoring at will and eventually chasing Miikaa Kirprusoff from the nets for the first time in the playoffs. Jarome Iginla scored in the second to give Flame fans hope only to watch the Sharks regroup and pour it on once again. Sharks captain Patrick Marleau and Vincent Damphousse combined to lead the Sharks on the scoring parade, taking advantage of Calgary penalties to each score a goal on the power play. Roman Turek would be thrown to the Sharks in the third as his defence continued to neglect its end of the bargain, but Turek would at least keep the Sharks at bay in period three. By then however, the Sharks had also retreated into a defensive shell to protect Evgani Nabokov’s stellar goaltending, Nabokov who has had his share of bad games in this series out duelled his former Shark team mate on the night, stopping 27 of the 29 shots fired his way. San Jose who only managed 19 shots on net got their four goals on sixteen shots before Kiprusoff was replaced, a testimony to just how bad the Flames played in their own end.

The Sharks for the most part have managed to limit the effectiveness of Jarome Iginla in this series, as shown by his frustration late in both games at home. Tying him up in the Sharks end it takes a huge extra effort for him to get clear and get a chance on net, his one goal on Sunday the result of sheer determination to break from behind the net. For the most part, for the first time Iginla is feeling the heat from the Shark defenders. The Flames who only two games ago were celebrating the success of lines two and three to break free have now seen both lines held in check for games three and four, the key to a Calgary revival will be for those two lines to help take some of the pressure off of Iginla and Gelinas on the first line.

Game five goes Monday night as the two teams catch a flight to San Jose and play with less than 28 hours rest, yet another bizarre twist in this NHL Playoff schedule that seems designed to make things as difficult for the player and fan alike. Though for coach Darryl Sutter the quick turnaround, at least means his team won't have time to dwell on the egg they laid. The one positive that the Flames can take into game five is that like the Sharks, they have a much better record on the road than at the Saddledome, so for a seven game series the obvious nod would have to go to Calgary. But this is fast becoming a series where the obvious isn’t quite what it would seem. It’s a best of three series now; momentum is going to play a large roll. Heading back to San Jose the Sharks have it right now, it’s up to Sutter to find a way to have his team recapture that spirit of games 1 and 2, if they can’t this remarkable Flame run will end up as a Flame Out…

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