San Jose wandered into the Saddledome on Thursday night and helped to bring to an end the pre-mature celebration of a Flames victory. Hockey fans and paid opinion makers alike had sat in awe of the performance last Tuesday night as the Flames so totally dominated the Sharks in their own home. For many observers (HockeyNation included) that one game held us spellbound, with glowing reviews and raised expectations it was all about the Flames and nothing about the Sharks. San Jose just took the time to remind us all that there are two teams in this series, and the one from California isn’t quite ready to hang up the skates just yet.
Evgani Nabokov held off a frantic Flame attack at times to secure his third shut out of this playoff year with a 3-0 victory, bringing the Sharks to one game away from tying this series with the Flames. Facing 34 shots in the Shark net, Nabobkov set the stage for his team mates to take charge of the score sheet, which they did thanks to the efforts of Vinnie Damphousse, who scored the first goal of the game and Alex Koryluk with two goals one into an empty net as the game was playing out.
Calgary was constantly in the Shark end of the ice, firing shot after shot at him only to see each and every one struck down by the goaltender or one of his defencemen. The Sharks would reel from time to time as Jarome Iginla tried to single handedly tie the game, never giving up the puck and fighting for it in the corners. Iginla despite his best efforts would finally see his playoff points streak come to an end in this game. But in this game they would bend but not break, holding the fort they scored a well deserved first win in this Western final.
The long suffering Flames fans were taken aback a bit by the end of the game as the upstart Sharks dared to challenge the local heroes. For Darryl Sutter the ability of San Jose to come back shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, one of the hallmarks of his tenure in San Jose was a team that never quit. A trait his new charges have taken to heart as well. With San Jose pulling themselves up by their skate laces, this series could now settle in for the duration.
Both teams play a similar style and feature a mirror image in some areas. With Nabokov back into a bit of a zone for his team, they can concentrate on scoring goals and not worry about giving them up. Thursday night’s goaltender advantage goes to the Sharks, in a series that is going to depend on goaltending there is little to choose from between Kiprusoff and Nabokov. Kirpusoff set the tone for games one and two, Nabokov has answered the challenge for game three. His team mates picking up the torch and getting themselves back into this series.
Sunday brings us more of the same, a very key game in this series, it will set the stage for either the Flames going up by three games, or everyone going back San Jose all tied up. Game four could very well be the turning point in this series, the direction taken on Sunday will go a long way to telling us which team is ready to make the next step in the quest for Stanley.