CALGARY -- The fans raised the roof. The Flames raised their game.
And now we have an anything-can-happen Game 7 in San Jose on Tuesday.
Calgary forced the quarter final playoff series to the brink with a gutsy, grinding performance at the Pengrowth Saddledome Sunday, defeating the Sharks 2-0.
The Flames and Sharks continue to stage a physical series and Game 6, with the Flames facing elimination from the NHL playoffs, was no different.
Calgary was ready, willing and able in the first period, coming hard from the opening face-off, a determined group playing with desperation in their step. When Douglas Murray popped Jarome Iginla in the neutral zone on the first shift, the Flames captain shrugged it off, straightened his helmet and went to the net. When Joe Thornton looked down for a pass just inside the Flames blueline, Robyn Regehr stepped up and wobbled the big Thornton to the ice.
With just 1:13 gone in the game, the Flames had created two good scoring chances, Alex Tanguay sliding off the wall only to have his deke foiled by Evgeni Nabokov's paddle with the goalie down and out. Moments later a Dion Phaneuf point shot made it through traffic and hit Nabokov and lay in front of the goaltender, who didn't know where the puck was. By the three minute mark the Flames had five shots on the visitors and had allowed just one.
Midway through the period the Flames put on a cycling show worthy of the Sedin Twins in Vancouver, hemming the Sharks in their own zone for a lengthy period. Iginla, Matthew Lombardi, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius and Adrian Aucoin all providing input into the cycle, which had to tucker out the opposition. Shortly thereafter Owen Nolan tapped home a rebound to give the Flames the lead they wanted, and, to be honest, deserved to that point in the game.
|Calgary Flames' Daymond Langkow, right, celebrates his goal with teammate Jarome Iginla during the second period of Game 6 NHL hockey playoff action against the San Jose Sharks in Calgary, Sunday, April 20, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Jeff McIntosh) |
With the first period coming to an end the Flames tried a new play -- the flip and chase -- and nearly scored. Langkow put the puck high in the air and Iginla raced under it inside the Sharks zone, bulled his way to the net and just slid a puck past the Sharks post.
How ready were the Flames? They outshot San Jose 11-5 in the first period and outhit the Sharks 13-4 while holding a strong territorial advantage.
“I would say that’s the most consistent effort as opposed to complete effort. We have had some good efforts but consistency has hurt us a little bit and that was the most consistent performance we have had to this point," said head coach Mike Keenan.
“I was pleased about the effort but I was more pleased about the execution and the attention to detail. Small one-on-one battles for example, or the details along the boards, the board work and particularly our hard fore check, I think that if you look after those details we’re a better team and we perform on a more consistent basis.”
Save for a couple of Sharks power plays and one spirited shift from the visitors five-on-five, it was pretty much the same script in the second period as the first as Calgary continued an effective forecheck. Langkow, taking a neat pass off the wall from Tanguay, then delivered the knock-out blow of Game 6, firing a wrister short side to give the Flames a 2-0 lead with just 56 seconds left in the period. That would be all the Flames needed.
Faced with a must-win situation the Flames deserve full marks throughout the line-up. Scorers played like role players. Witness Tanguay and Huselius laying licks on the Sharks defenders on the forecheck. Or Lombardi blocking a shot with his foot during the penalty kill and then putting in the extra effort to ice the puck while hobbling to the bench. Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff was sharp, stopping Thornton twice in close on the power play and kicking out a Ryane Clowe shot with his pad from the slot in the second period. Kiprusoff kicked out 21 shots for the shutout.
It was time to dig down deep and the Flames certainly showed their mettle. Nothing got in their way. Nothing took them out of their gameplan. Not questionalbe calls, not Big Joe, not Who's Your Nabby.
"We knew if we didn't put forth the effort that our season would be over. Noboyd in this room wanted the season to end," said Wayne Primeau, one of the Flames more effective grinders in the game.
They have forced a deciding Game 7. They may have placed some doubt in the minds of the Sharks.
"We have to come out with the same effort," said Primeau. "They are going to come hard, too. They are now in a do-or-die situation and they are in their building. But we just have to concentrate on ourselves and play our game."
It's now down to one game, one bounces, one shot. Anything can happen. The Flames have been here before, back in 2004. That post-season they had to go into hostile territory in Vancouver for Game 7 in the first round. They won that game in overtime and then marched to the Stanley Cup Final.
Anything can happen now.