The San Jose Sharks may have gone 18-0-2 before closing the season with two meaningless losses, but the Calgary Flames aren’t intimidated.
The Sharks, the No. 2 seed by virtue of their Pacific Division crown, probably are the hottest team in hockey, but Calgary seems to have San Jose’s number, winning three of the four regular-season meetings.
Yes, those wins were of the nail-biting affair – two in OT and another one-goal decision – but they were victories nonetheless. Plus, the Flames scored regularly on the Sharks, something few teams could do this season.
San Jose allowed just 193 goals for the season, one of just five teams to stay below the 200-goal threshold, but it allowed 12 in its three losses to Calgary. So it should make for an interesting first-round series, to say the least.
"It's easier to play on this team with as much talent as we have. Everybody on the ice is capable of scoring. I feel pretty fortunate to be in a lineup like that." – San Jose defenseman Brian Campbell
Calgary possesses the type of veteran influence that could make it a tough out for the rampaging Sharks. As Jarome Iginla proved in 2004, he can carry a team on his back. Iginla had 50 goals this season and has been the majority of the offense for the Flames on far too many nights. Plus, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is a threat every postseason, even if his regular-season numbers this season suggested otherwise.
Finally, Calgary plays a rugged, hard-hat style that can muck it up and take away time and space from the equally physical Sharks.
"Every year we've had reasons for the last few to be optimistic, but so far this one feels the best. I really feel good about this group.” – Calgary captain Jarome Iginla
With that said, there is no denying San Jose is one of the NHL’s elite teams. If the season were two weeks longer, the Sharks might have caught Detroit for the League’s best record.
As it is, goalie Evgeni Nabokov is having a season for the ages. He had a League-best 46 wins in 77 appearances and has played to a 2.14 goals-against average.
Offensively, the team has a variety of weapons, highlighted by center Joe Thornton, perhaps the best passer in the game. On trade-deadline day, the club added puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell, and his passing skills have fit right into San Jose’s scheme.
San Jose will win if -- It continues to do what it has done for the past 20 or so games. A team does not run off an 18-0-2 string without playing near-flawless hockey. San Jose needs to visualize the things that made it so good in that run – crisp puck movement, good discipline, hard work, timely scoring and just plain luck – and carry those ideals into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Calgary will win if -- It gets game-breaking performances from its stars. Iginla, the captain, is the type of power forward who can steal a series for you. He has three goals against the Sharks this season. On the blue line, Dion Phaneuf brings the intimidation element always necessary in the postseason. Like Scott Stevens, he can change the course of a series with a hit. Finally, Kiprusoff. Yes, he was not sharp for long stretches this season, but he won. And he has been good in the playoffs before.