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Analysis: No quit in Flames

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames

The first period provided enough fodder for every writer in the press box at the Pengrowth Saddledome on Sunday.

There was the San Jose Sharks scoring three goals in 3:33 seconds to take the wind out of the Sea of Red, a 19,289-strong contingent of flag-waving, thunder-stick hammering Calgary Flames fans.

There was the shocking pulling of Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, the rock-steady, cool-as-a-cucumber goaltender who has stolen so many games for the Flames, in the regular season, and in the playoffs. He wasn't so cool with being yanked from a playoff game so early, throwing his stick and storming down the Flames runway before returning to the bench to watch veteran Curtis Joseph take over in relief.

Dion Phaneuf takes Patrick Marleau into the end boards April 13, 2008

Then there was the hit. And we mean the hit of these early NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. At approximately the seven minute mark Flames defenceman Cory Sarich bounded into the Sharks zone where Sharks captain Patrick Marleau was waiting for the puck on a ring up the boards. With his head down, Marleau was a fish out of water for Sarich. He was easy pickings and the hit knocked Marleau's helmt off, and the Shark to the ice.

Was there an elbow?

Apparently not as the officials didn't call a penalty on Sarich. In fact, the Flames ended up with a power play from the melee as two Sharks, Matt Carle and Ryane Clowe, received roughing penalties and were only offset by a roughing minor to Eric Godard on the Flames side.

"I thought it was clean," said Sarich. "Shoulder. I tried to keep my elbow down."

The hit electrified the crowd, needless to say. It also made a mess of Marleau's face as he looked like a boxer after a big-time, 12-round bout. He was cut above the right eye and was bleeding from the nose.

The hit also brought the Flames into the game as, 28 seconds into the ensuing power play, they scored when Jarome Iginla tipped a Dion Phaneuf point shot past Evgeni Nabokov. Moments later Daymond Langkow, on a perfect cross-slot feed from Kristian Huselius, was robbed by Nabokov who made the ultimate toe save. Later in the period Adrian Aucoin rang a wrist shot of the crossbar.

“It (the Sarich hit) certainly energized our team after we struggled with a very difficult start. It was a big hit, solid contact that seemed to, as I said,  energize our team and ignite our team in terms of emotion,” said head coach Mike Keenan.
“If I could bottle that (slow start) I would tell you. I have no idea, I thought we were pretty energized in practice yesterday and this morning and before the game certainly and just the way it unfolded quickly and they came out hard, they attacked the net, they shot the puck they scored a power play goal on their first opportunity and set us back on our hells a little bit but we responded after the hit in particular.”

Calgary Flames goalie Curtis Joseph reaches for the puck during the second period of an NHL Western Conference playoff series game in Calgary, Alberta, Sunday, April 13, 2008. The Flames beat the Sharks 4-3 to take the lead in the best of seven series 2-1. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

Langkow would get his just dessert when, on a power play meidway through the second period, he planted himself in front and put home a nifty Iginla pass to make it 3-2 in favour of the Sharks. The goal proved to be a big momentum swinger as the Flames came at the Sharks with renewed vigor through the rest of the period and the rest of the game.

They needed that vigor and more. They had wanted a quick start. They got a slow start. They wanted to stay out of the box, but they were penalized for slashing 26 seconds into the game. Clowe, with his third goal of the series, scored at 1:31 for the Sharks on a power play. Then Marleau, after being belted by Phaneuf, went to the net and tipped one in at 3:19. Then Douglas Murray, pinching from the point, caught everyone unawares and made it 3-0 at 3:33. The Flames had not registered a shot on net.

But there is no quit in the Flames and the storylines from the first period evolved into a comeback tale.

One of the themes for the Flames 2008 playoff run, is resiliency. They showed that in making a valiant comeback effort, overcoming the three-goal deficit to claim a 4-3 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series.

The Flames played hard hockey, forechecking their guts out. Their penalty-killers kept their feet moving and, despite giving up an early goal, battened down the hatches on the slick-passing Sharks to kill off the remaining four power plays.

Joseph stood his ground, turning back the clock in the net  and making second period stops on Curtis Brown (glove) and that pesky Clowe (shoulder) to keep the Sharks at bay. In the third he stopped Clowe in close on tip on a power play for what was the save of the game, really.

“Curtis played exceptionally well. He was very composed, he looked like a veteran and steadied the game for us. They still had some good scoring chances no question about it, as we did.  He was a big influence on the out come because he did steady the team down and had an impact with his teammates as well," said Keenan.

Hard work can create breaks and the Flames caught a break when Dion Phaneuf blasted a shot from the point and the rebound was accidentally backhanded into the Shark net by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. For those keeping track, he was the player the Sharks chose with a second round draft pick acquired from the Flames for none other than Miikka Kiprusoff. That made the score 3-3 at 1:18 of the third and it became, essentially, a one shot on goal game for both sides.

The Flames completed the stunning four-goal comeback when former Shark Owen Nolan sank a shot at 16:15. The Sharks had not given up a three-goal lead all season.

"Huge," said Sarich of the win. "It's a momentum builder. It gives the guys confidence. We got pucks by their goalie. After last game (a 2-0 Sharks win) it was a little frustrating."

It is the Sharks that are now frustrated. But...

This series is war on ice. Goalies are being harassed in their creases.

Bodies are flying all over the place -- just ask the battered Marleau. He was taken heavy into the boards twice by Phaneuf before getting wrecked by Sarich.

This series also has its share of finesse and end-to-end hockey.

This series has emotion. It's a long ways from over. Hold onto your hats, the next episode is Tuesday.

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