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San Jose Sharks vs. Calgary Flames @NHLdotcom
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GAME: San Jose Sharks at Calgary Flames.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference finals; Flames lead 2-1.

TIME: Sunday, 4 p.m. EDT.

For all the excitement the fans generate at the Saddledome, the Calgary Flames don't play like they have a home-ice advantage.

Coming off a shutout loss at home on Thursday, the Flames will again try to move within one win of their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 1989 when they take on the San Jose Sharks.

The Flames are 3-4 at home in the playoffs after the Sharks' 3-0 victory in Game 3, which cut Calgary's series lead to 2-1.

The road team has won all three games in the series, and both coaches believe it might be a reflection of the incredible pressures of playoff hockey on two young teams with no experience playing this late in the spring.

"Obviously, we'd like to do better at home," Calgary forward Shean Donovan said Friday. "The fans came out with a little something extra, and maybe we tried to do a little bit too much. You need to win the home games.

"We've got the best fans in the league, and I think sometimes we try to get too fancy and do too many things for them. We just need to get back to playing ugly Flames hockey."

But when the lights go down as the Flames take the ice at the Saddledome, it's a thrilling experience. The fans, mostly clad in bright red shirts or jerseys, rise to a deafening roar while dazzling bursts of flame fill the sky.

But the Flames acknowledge they're sometimes overhyped from a combination of the pomp, the cheers and the sky-high hopes of the fans, who went seven years without playoff hockey before this magical season.

Or could the pressure and scrutiny of being "Canada's team" - the unofficial honor annually given by journalists and fans to the final Canadian club left in the playoffs - be a stress to the young Flames?

"We've done a lot better job winning games on the road," Flames defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "We just haven't done a good enough job making this a tough place to play. I don't know (why)."

The main reason for Thursday's disappointment was San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov. The Russian goaltender was spectacular in Game 3, stopping 34 shots for his third shutout of the playoffs.

"We played more of a patient game," Nabokov said. "(The Flames have) been doing a pretty good job for the whole three games. They were shooting the puck, and they were rushing the net. But today, we didn't have that many rushes against us, and that's why we were controlling the play in the defensive zone."

San Jose also did a pretty good job in the Calgary end. Alex Korolyuk scored twice, but drew the ire of the fans and Flames for pulling up short with an empty net to pass to captain Patrick Marleau.

Though some Flames and coach Darryl Sutter saw nothing wrong with Korolyuk's actions, other players and a section of the Canadian media insisted Korolyuk crossed one of hockey's imaginary lines in the ice. An evening of hacking, jersey-holding and facewashing is fine, but any possibility of showboating must be swiftly punished.

The resulting scrum finished with a fight between Calgary goon Chris Simon and pacifistic Sharks defenseman Mike Rathje, who was sporting a nasty black eye at San Jose's team hotel in downtown Calgary on Friday.

Though Rathje shrugged off Simon's shenanigans, Wilson called the incident "a black eye" for hockey - even though Wilson and Simon are close from their years together in Washington.

"That's the sport we play," Calgary defenseman Andrew Ference said. "If you have complete respect for each other, you should go play pool or something. Guys like us play this game because we like the intensity, the physical play.

"It's not a black eye for hockey. It is hockey."

Game 5 is Monday in San Jose.

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; Vincent Damphousse, 12 points; Damphousse and Scott Hannan, 18 PIM. Flames - Jarome Iginla, 7 goals and 14 points; Craig Conroy and Iginla, 7 assists; Simon, 39 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sharks - Power play: 13.2 percent (9 for 68). Penalty killing: 93.0 percent (53 for 57). Flames - Power play: 10.1 percent (7 for 69). Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (62 for 74).

GOALTENDERS: Sharks - Nabokov (9-5, 3 SO, 1.58 GAA); Vesa Toskala (no appearances). Flames - Miikka Kiprusoff (10-6, 3, 1.90); Roman Turek (no appearances).

Associated Press
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