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37 FOR 37: 14 FOR 14

Theo piled up the points and riled up everyone in Silicon Valley during epic playoff series

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

A local paper hung the nickname The Runt King on him. A San Jose radio station kept phoning, somehow getting through to the room, to awaken him at 6:30 a.m.

Hated. Scorned. Jeered.

He loved it. Every blessed second.

Theo Fleury, at his best. In his element.

Among the many compelling moments in Fleury's days as a Flame, one post-season in particular remains vivid in the mind's-eye.

During the 1995 Western Conference quarter-final against the San Jose Sharks, he was indisputably at his agitating apex, his theatrical peak, his lethal best.

Through the maximum seven games, Fleury piled up 14 points, which remains a single-series franchise record (consider that when the final numbers were tallied up that total placed him 11th in playoff scoring … in only one round).

On May 11th, Game 3, he'd singe the Sharks four times - still a Flames' playoff high - and chip in with an assist in a 9-2 pistol-whipping to equal Al MacInnis' club one-game record established the year before against Vancouver.

The 36 goals Calgary poured in during the series has also never been equalled.

But Fleury's contribution went far, far beyond statistics. His entertainment value had never been, would never be, higher.

For closing in on two weeks, from May 7-19, he seemed to be at war with the entire Silicon Valley.

He got into it with the fans at the Shark Tank. Taking a twirl as the first star of a 6-4 Game 4, series-tying triumph at San Jose Arena, Fleury accepted the resounding crescendo of booing by opening his arms wide, as if awaiting some sort of group hug, in mock appreciation.

Out of the stands was launched a projectile. He promptly, and understandably, went off his nut.

"What happened at the end of the game?'' Fleury explained later. "Well, a guy threw a plastic cup full of Coke at me.

"It hit me on the top of the head.

"Typical. Everybody's so tough sitting in the stands behind the security guard. Then you make a motion to go up there and it's run away, run away."

When the Flames' best player wasn't feuding with paying patrons, he and the Sharks players were exchanging jabs and insults.

Throughout the series, goaltender Arturs Irbe was a particular target. On one particular piece of gamesmanship, Fleury, all innocent, slid the puck gently but defiantly into the net long after the whistle, enraging the little Latvian puck-stopper.

The two men confronted each other - Fleury listed at 5-foot-6, Irbe at 5-foot-8 - in dramatic fashion.

Predictably, chaos ensued.

"He tried to kick me in the crease,'' Fleury explained later. "I don't know what he was saying. I don't speak Russian."

In the end, though, not even Fleury's individual brilliance could save the Flames from another deflating first-round upset exit.

In Game 7 at the 'Dome, Sharks' goaltender Wade Flaherty stopped 60 pellets as the Sharks claimed a heart-wrenching Game 7 double-overtime 5-4 victory.

"He was playing on Mars tonight,'' murmurred a disconsolate Fleury of the back-up goalie's breathtaking performance. "He wasn't on this planet.

"He's a Game 7 hero. There's always one in a crowd."

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