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Sharks douse Flames 4-1 in season opener

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY, Alberta -- After a disappointing finish last season, the San Jose Sharks knocked the rust off quickly and put the NHL on notice that they can still be dangerous.

Patrick Marleau took a bite out of the festivities of the sellout crowd of 19,289 at Scotiabank Saddledome by scoring twice as San Jose found the back of the net three times in a four-minute span in the second period to defeat the Calgary Flames 4-1 Sunday night.

"It was great to be back," Marleau said. "Even though it was their home opener, just being at the rink and having the fans cheering, it was something special."

After allowing 16 shots in an anxious opening 20 minutes, the Sharks settled down in the second period and took control of the game with three goals.

Trailing 1-0 and with Chris Butler in the box for roughing, Joe Thornton pickpocketed Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano behind the net and fed a backhanded pass into the slot to a waiting Marleau, who beat goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff at 13:52 to tie the game.

"Just aggressive off the faceoff, that's all that was," Thornton said of his first of two assists on the night. "(I) just lifted his stick, gave it to Patty and Patty made a great move on Kipper, threw it in the back of the net."

The quick assault continued.

Kiprusoff thought he had squeezed Marc-Edouard Vlasic's point shot, but he dropped the puck to his left and onto the waiting stick of Martin Havlat, who tucked the puck into the open net at 15:05 to put the Sharks ahead to stay.

Marleau added his second goal with 1:50 remaining in the period. Denied by the right pad of Kiprusoff, the six-time 30-goal scorer fired his own rebound into a wide-open net for a 3-1 lead.

"It's always nice to get one or two early on and try to build off that," Marleau said.

Goaltender Antti Niemi's poise in the first period paved the way for the Sharks' revival in the second.

"Nemo played great, he really did, especially that first period," Thornton said. "They had 15, 16 shots. He stood tall for a lot of those. He's a world-class goalie, and we love playing in front of him. That's just too many shots to take on early in the game."

Though San Jose also allowed 12 shots in the final period, Niemi and the Sharks closed the door to thwart any comeback attempt by Calgary.

"He's our stud and we feel real confident when he's in the net," Thornton said. "We feel he's going to carry the load for us."

The Flames' best opportunity to get within striking distance came with 6:54 remaining. After stopping Dennis Wideman's blast from the point, Niemi kicked out a rebound -- but he denied Calgary captain Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay in the ensuing scramble before San Jose was able to smother the puck.

Dan Boyle iced the game during a 5-on-3 advantage for the Sharks, blasting a point shot under the pad of Kiprusoff with 60 seconds remaining in the game.

Calgary came out with much more enthusiasm than the Sharks in the first period.

With Havlat in the box for goaltender interference, Lee Stempniak took a pass on the half-wall from Jay Bouwmeester, skated to the top of the left faceoff circle and fired a wrist shot over Niemi's glove at 12:21 for Calgary's first goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.

The Flames had plenty of opportunities to extend that lead but were thwarted by Niemi and his posts.

Newcomer Steve begin came in on a partial breakaway a few minutes later while killing a penalty and fired a shot that caught Niemi's stick before bouncing off the crossbar.

With 3:25 remaining, Mikael Backlund split Vlasic and Ryane Clowe to break in alone but was denied by the stick of Niemi. On the same shift, rookie Sven Baertschi struck iron, taking a feed in the slot and ringing it off the post.

"We had our chances and Niemi played well," Stempniak said. "We hit a post early on. Those are all things that I think contributed but for us, we stopped skating and things sort of fell apart. To me that's the issue."

Calgary will have little time to recover from the loss -- the Anaheim Ducks come to town on Monday. Backlund knows a short memory will be vital.

"You leave that game behind and look forward to the next game and focus on that," he said. "That's what we're going to have to be good at this year because it's a lot of games and a tight schedule. We have to really learn to forget about last game and move forward to the next one."

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