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GAME: San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference finals; Flames lead 2-0.

TIME: Thursday, 10 p.m. EDT.

Few would question that Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff are the biggest reasons behind the Calgary Flames' surprising run this postseason.

The San Jose Sharks are finding out they are much more than that.

After opening a playoff series with two straight road wins for the first time in franchise history, the Flames will try to move within one victory of an improbable trip to the Stanley Cup finals when they host the Sharks in Game 3.

In the first two rounds of the postseason, the Flames rode Kiprusoff's goaltending and Iginla's scoring and leadership to series victories over Vancouver and Detroit. While both have continued to play well in the first two games against San Jose, Calgary has also received contributions from several lesser known players.

The line of Shean Donovan, Marcus Nilson and Ville Nieminen had a goal and an assist apiece, and Kiprusoff needed to make only 17 saves in the Flames' 4-1 victory Tuesday.

Nilson's second goal of the playoffs, 20 seconds into the game, staked Calgary to an early lead it never relinquished.

"They were awesome, what can you say?" Flames center Craig Conroy said. "They came right out, set the tone. It's almost like they scored the first shift and started feeling it right away. Those guys, they just get on a roll. To see them get goals was awesome because they do everything."

Donovan converted a breakaway 10 minutes after Nilson's goal, and Nieminen and Iginla sealed the victory with third-period goals 44 seconds apart.

In the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the Flames are two wins away from their first conference title since they captured the Stanley Cup in 1989.

"All playoffs we've been trying to focus on having the same mindset going into each game and we're going to try to continue that," Iginla said. "We know how big next game is, what a 3-0 lead can mean, but we're not going to get ahead of ourselves because it can switch after next game."

History is certainly on Calgary's side.

Teams that lose the first two games in a best-of-seven format have come back to win the series just 13 percent of the time. Montreal did it against Boston this season, but that was in the first round.

No team has lost the first two games of the conference finals at home and rallied to play for the cup since Detroit did it against Boston in 1945. San Jose has never rallied to win a series after dropping the first two games, losing all four times.

"We've dug a heck of a hole for ourselves, but it's not impossible to get out," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "We have to recapture the style of play that made us successful in the first two rounds. Hopefully it will be easier to calm the situation down on the road."

Pacific Division champion San Jose peppered Kiprusoff with 52 shots in Game 1, but lost 4-3 on Steve Montador's goal with 77 seconds left in overtime. The Sharks weren't nearly as good Tuesday, as they started slowly and managed only 18 shots, including just four in the first period.

After opening the postseason with seven wins in eight games, the Sharks have lost four of five, including three in a row at home.

Six San Jose forwards, including leading playoff scorer Vincent Damphousse, failed to get a shot on net in Game 2. That could prompt Wilson to make lineup changes for Game 3.

"I've got some healthy forwards who deserve a shot," Wilson said. "I have to look at some of the guys who have struggled throughout the playoffs."

One forward that could find his way into Thursday's lineup is center Marcel Goc, who scored in Game 6 against Colorado, his only playoff appearance.

Though he won't be scratched Thursday, captain Patrick Marleau needs to get going if the Sharks are to get back in this series. Marleau is pointless in five straight games and has one assist in his past six contests.

While scratching Marleau would be drastic, Wilson could take left wing Nils Ekman out of the lineup for Game 3. Ekman, the Sharks' second-leading scorer in the regular season with 55 points, has no goals and two points in 13 playoff games.

Besides better performances from their forwards, the Sharks also need goalie Evgeni Nabokov to rebound from two disappointing games. Nabokov has allowed eight goals on 57 shots in the first two games of this series after surrendering eight goals in his previous seven starts.

San Jose can take some solace in Calgary's mediocre home record. The Flames are 3-3 at home in the playoffs, but did win both regular season games against the Sharks at the Saddledome.

San Jose hopes to have defenseman Kyle McLaren available for Game 3. McLaren, a last-minute scratch Tuesday with an upper-body injury, was replaced by Rob Davison and Tom Preissing.

Game 4 is Sunday afternoon at Calgary.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Sharks - 2nd seed; beat St. Louis Blues 4-1, quarterfinals; beat Colorado Avalanche 4-2, semifinals. Flames - 6th seed; beat Vancouver Canucks 4-3, quarterfinals; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-2, semifinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Sharks - Marleau, 7 goals; Niko Dimitrakos, 8 assists; Damphousse, 11 points; Scott Hannan, 18 PIM. Flames - Iginla, 7 goals and 14 points; Conroy and Iginla, 7 assists; Nieminen, 29 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 12.7 percent (8 for 63). Penalty killing: 92.2 percent (47 for 51). Flames - Power play: 10.6 percent (7 for 66). Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (55 for 66).

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (8-5, 2 SO, 1.70 GAA); Vesa Toskala (no appearances). Flames - Kiprusoff (10-5, 3, 1.89); Roman Turek (no appearances).

Associated Press
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