SAN JOSE-- The Calgary Flames will remember this Game 7 for the nine-minute siege that ended a promising season. The San Jose Sharks scored four unanswered goals in that span in the second period, putting puck-after-puck on the Flames net to send Calgary to an early playoff exit.
The scoring spree, over an 8:49 span, epitomized the hard-fought, unpredictable series that had more momentum swings within games than can be counted.
In the first period, the Sharks had the early gusto, but the period ended 1-1. Early in the second period Owen Nolan scored on a breakaway, taking the wind out of the HP Pavilion crowd and swinging momentum towards the Flames, who held that lead until 6:04 of the middle frame.
|San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov (20), of Kazakhstan, and Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff (34), of Finland, shake hands after the Sharks defeated the Flames 5-3 in Game 7 of an NHL hockey Western Conference playoff series, Tuesday, April 22, 2008, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) |
It was at that point that the game, the series, came apart for Calgary. Jeremy Roenick, a healthy scratch in Game 6 but a veteran of Game 7 wars, shot a harmless, feather shot to the Flames net that Miikka Kiprusoff allowed to squeak between his pads. Ten times out of 10 Kiprusoff would make that save. This time he didn't. And the tide swung to the Sharks who officially smelled blood and closed in for the kill. It seemed to startle the Flames, who were caught flat-footed for much of the nine-minute siege.
"They were able to get the extra goals. We weren't," said Wayne Primeau in a dejected Flames dressing room. "That's hockey for you. You can always look back and say should have, would have, could have."
When the Sharks were done, Roenick, turning back the clock, had another goal, Joe Pavelski had scored and Devin Setoguchi had his first of the playoffs. The score, with the four unanswered goals, was 5-2 for the Sharks. They had fired 21 shots in the 8:49. The shots on net through the first 40 minutes were 35-13 for the Sharks.
Kiprusoff was pulled after the fourth goal and 30 shots. Replaced by Curtis Joseph for the second time this series. Barely warmed up, Setoguchi scored the only goal Joseph would give up.
While the Flames had shown plenty of mettle in this series, they were in a big hole heading into the final 20 minutes of Game 7. In theory they needed a goal every five minutes in the third to keep their season alive. They knew they had made comebacks against this team in this series -- erasing a 3-0 deficit in Game 3 -- ironically the only other game in the series in which the Flames had made a goaltending change.
They tried. For that they deserve credit. In the first two minutes of the final 20 minutes of the season, the Flames hit a post. Alex Tanguay just missed on the rebound.
The Flames had to pressure. The defence had to pinch. All conventions thrown out the window in the final period of Game 7.
Then Primeau had a puck carom off his body into the net, making it 5-3. The time was 5:18. There was life for the Flames.
"It's too bad we couldn't get a couple more bounces like that," said Primeau.
They pushed hard, outshooting the Sharks in the final period 9-6. But they couldn't, ultimately, break the defensive fortitude of the Sharks, who created a wall of teal in the neutral zone and made it tough to get pucks to the net. The Shark Tank is a tough place to play in. It is loud. The Sharks breathe energy from the fans.
"It wasn't from a lack of effort. Someone has to win. Someone has to lose. Unfortunately, it was us that had to lose," said Primeau. "We tried our hardest in the third but we weren't able to make it back."
Game 7 was what it should be. A game full of emotion. Full of chances. Full of effort. All the marbles were on the table.
The Flames, in fact, took the heavily-favoured Sharks to the brink of a seventh game. They even had the Sharks on the run early in the second period of the game. There were veterans on both teams making contributions. Owen Nolan scoring for the Flames. Roenick for the Sharks. Power play goals on both sides. The offensive leaders of both teams, Jarome Iginla for the Flames and Joe Thornton for the Sharks, scoring goals.
As always, there will be questions about this game. There will be debates. Should Kiprusoff have been pulled? Have players like Nolan and Joseph played their final games in the NHL? What changes are needed for the Flames? You can't help but wonder what might have been had Nolan and Craig Conroy converted on a great shorthanded chance with the Flames leading 2-1. The onslaught from the Sharks began just minutes after. Would it have happened if the score was 3-1? We'll never know.
We do know there had to be a winner. An 8 minute 49 second span in the second period said that winner, the one that would advance to Round 2, would be the Sharks.