CALGARY - It took five tries and they were the last NHL team to get one, but thanks to Craig Conroy's shootout goal Tuesday night, the Calgary Flames finally have their first pre-season victory.
Conroy fired a shot over Evgeni Nabokov's glove as the Flames won 3-2 over the San Jose Sharks. The win is Mike Keenan's first as the Flames new head coach.
"It's always nice to win and it will certainly help boost the confidence of the group," Keenan said. "They were starting to feel a little tentative about their play not getting the results during the pre-season at least in the win column."
The way the shootout began - with Flames captain Jarome Iginla being stopped and Joe Thornton scoring - it looked like Calgary was going to remain the NHL's only winless club.
Owen Nolan and Kristian Huselius scored to keep the Flames alive and, with the shootout tied 2-2 heading to a fourth shooter, Conroy scored while Curtis Brown had his backhand attempt ring off the goal post behind Miikka Kiprusoff.
In regulation, Huselius had his first two goals for Calgary (1-2-2). Patrick Marleau and Pat Rissmiller replied for San Jose (3-0-2).
Kiprusoff entered the game having yielded six goals on 43 shots for a save percentage of .860 - an uncharacteristically poor percentage that dropped another 40 points when San Jose's first two shots found the back of the net. Marleau scored on a breakaway 30 seconds in and Rissmiller beat Kiprusoff from the slot at 2:04.
However, the Flames all-star goaltender settled in after the shaky beginning and was outstanding the rest of the way to finish the night with 32 saves.
"We got off pretty quickly there but it got away from us a little bit," Rissmiller said. "We pressured them pretty good in the third but obviously Kipper played well, we probably could have been up 5 or 6-2 if we could have put a few away."
San Jose opened the third period with three consecutive power-plays only to come up empty. They also failed to click on a man advantage in overtime.
Jonathan Cheechoo had two great chances during the overtime four-on-three but had one shot blocked and then missed the net on a dangerous chance shortly after.
"Kipper was amazing the whole night but 4-on-3, to kill that off against guys like Thornton, Marleau, and Cheechoo, that's a hard 4-on-3 to stop," Iginla said.
Conroy said exhibition game or not, it was a satisfying victory.
"The way everything went being down 2-0 right away, and with all those penalties we took, it was pretty gratifying to finally win one," Conroy said.
Thornton was the best player on the ice for either team, continually showing the sell-out crowd of 19,289 why he was the NHL leader in assists last season (92). Thornton caused the Flames defenders fits with his knack for turning a seemingly harmless play into a dangerous scoring chance.
"He just sets up so patient, he's always looking you off and you're never quite sure where he's going to go," said Conroy. "Meanwhile, Cheechoo and Marleau are both getting open. You definitely have to stay out of the penalty box against those guys."
Rookie right-winger Devin Setoguchi, the Sharks' pre-season scoring leader with three goals and two assists, was the recipient of a couple of Thornton's dandy cross-ice passes but was unable to convert them.
Notes - San Jose was 0-for-8 on the power play while the Flames were 1-for-3... Calgary D Robyn Regehr was a minus-1 to drop to minus-5 in the pre-season, the worst total on the team... With Roman Hamrlik having signed on with the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary's Dion Phaneuf will begin his third NHL season with a new defence partner. The leading candidate is newcomer Cory Sarich, who spent the past seven seasons with Tampa Bay and was paired with Phaneuf on Tuesday... After a game in Edmonton on Wednesday night, the Flames wrap up their home pre-season schedule against Vancouver on Friday.