SAN JOSE -- Intensity. With a capital I. Effort, with a capital E.
A take no prisoner, give no quarter, give nothing up type of hockey game. That's what Game 5 of the Calgary-San Jose Western Conference quarter-final series was like Thursday. With each team taking away time and space, every inch of ice was contested, and contested hard. How about 78 hits in one game? That's a lesson on finishing checks, on playing the body, on working hard.
"It's as tight as it can be out there. There are not a lot of scoring chances," said Alex Tanguay, the Flames forward who rattled a shot off the post in the first period. "They got a couple of bounces and we didn't."
This was a game of inches. A game where mistakes are magnified. In the end, the Sharks capitalized on more chances and hung on to win 4-3 and take a 3-2 lead in the series, which continues in Calgary Sunday with Game 6 at 6 p.m. at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The Jonathan Cheechoo train ended up being the deciding factor -- he struck for two goals in the third period off of Flames turnovers, one in their own end, the other at the Sharks blueline to put the Flames in a do-or-die situation Sunday.
Down 4-1 in the third period, the Flames fought back and scored in the final minute. There have now been four one-goal games in this series. That's how tight things are. That it is that tight is significant as the series shifts to Calgary.
"We did a lot of good things," said captain Jarome Iginla, who had a goal and an assist in the game. "We got pucks to the net, we had momentum at times. We are going to regroup and do more of the same."
There was, of course, space and time for the teams in the second period when each was awarded a five-on-three advantage. The Flames were the first with the two-man power play and Iginla hammered a slapshot home to give the Flames a 1-0 lead. The Sharks then took advantage of their five-on-three, when Joe Pavelski scored on a rebound as the two-man advantage expired. Interestingly, too, both teams had shorthanded breakaways -- Joe Thornton for the Sharks and Matthew Lombardi for the Flames -- but both were unsuccessful.
"Do we expect them to play hard? Do we expect them to crash the net? It's playoffs," said Flames defenceman Adrian Aucoin.
The Flames, too, had a similar gameplan.
"We want to finish guys off and do it the right way," said Aucoin, whose Flames dished out 37 of those 78 hits. "You want to play physical. You don't want to take penalties. You have to be smart about it."
The Flames got the start they wanted Thursday -- they had momentum.
Afer generating just 10 shots on net in Game 4, the plan was to pound pucks at Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. They needed about 19:30 of time to reach the 10-shot mark in the first period and added one for good measure to finish with 11 shots on goal. Three were deadly dangerous. Owen Nolan let a hard wrist shot go through traffic that Nabokov had to be sharp on. Then Jarome Iginla, breaking on a two-on-one fired one of his lasers five-hole at the Sharks goalie. The puck squeezed through and Nabokov just reached back with his paddle in time to prevent it from crossing the line. Tanguay, on a breakaway with a rolling puck, managed to get a great shot off that beat Nabokov only to go off the post as the Sharks breathed a sigh of collective relief.
We knew this wasn't going to be easy. And it's not going to be easy - Alex Tanguay
Had Iginla scored and Tanguay scored, this would have been a totally different game. Those are the bounces that Tanguay refers to.
"We feel good about our game," said Tanguay. "If we play like that again in Game 6 we feel good about getting back here," he said. "We just have to keep pushing. We feel we have matched them through the series. We knew this wouldn't be easy. And it is not going to be. We knew we would have to win in their building and now we will have to in the last game."
The Flames showed plenty of pluck in this game, outshooting the Sharks for the first time in the series -- 36-26. They also put doubt in the Sharks mind by staging a comeback, albeit one that fell just short.
"Nobody on our bench quit," said Iginla. "We thought we could come back tonight. We now have to win two games in a row and we believe we can do it. It is do or die and we believe we can win Game 6."
Heading into Game 4, the Sharks vowed to push back. They vowed to no longer let the Flames push them around.
And to prove it, they put their bulky forwards, Ryane Clowe and Jody Shelley, between 'Jumbo' Joe Thornton for the opening face-off of that game. Shelley was lined up opposite Nolan. Clowe opposite Tanguay. Both Sharks wanted to provoke a response. They jabbed the Flames wingers, they slashed at their legs, the normal type of dance before a potential fight off the face-off. Shelley, who would become Public Enemy No. 1 among the Sea of Red faithful before the first 20 minutes were complete, was the more aggressive of the pair, attracting the attention of the officials twice before the puck was dropped.
The Flames didn't bite on the bait the Sharks threw out in Game 4 but, just in case, they sent out defenceman Jim Vandermeer as a forward for the opening face-off.The visiting team must submit their line-up first and it can't be changed so the move was more to counter anything the Sharks might have tried. They didn't pull any skullduggery and nothing came out of the face-off but, throughout the first period, there was a sense that someone was going to finally fight in this emotional, physical series. There was plenty of pushing and shoving after whistles and the first period ended with a line scrum in the Sharks end.
Earlier in the period Iginla and Craig Rivet exchanged words and cross-checks. In the end, there were no fights. Just one tough battle for time and space.