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Sharks survive hot encounter with Flames

by Brian Compton /

The San Jose Sharks defeated the Calgary Flames 5-3 in Game 7 to clinch their playoff series. Sharks clinch series over Flames
After falling in the second round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the San Jose Sharks pulled out all the stops prior to the start of this postseason with the hopes of winning that elusive Holy Grail.

After acquiring All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell on Feb. 26 – just hours before the trade deadline expired – the Sharks went on a roll. They lost just two games in regulation the rest of the way en route to a Pacific Division title.

With a first-round matchup against the Calgary Flames, the Sharks knew they were in for a battle. And what a battle it was.

In front of a capacity crowd at HP Pavilion, the Sharks suffered a 3-2 loss to the Flames in Game 1. Calgary set the tone early, as Stephane Yelle and Dion Phaneuf scored less than three minutes apart early in the first period as the Flames jumped to a 2-0 lead. San Jose couldn't recover and ultimately found itself in a 1-0 series hole.

"You want to win every game, so allow us five minutes to be disappointed, and just get ready for tomorrow, because we play right away," Sharks All-Star center Joe Thornton said.

Twenty-four hours later, the Sharks responded – especially goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. The All-Star netminder stopped all 21 shots he faced, while Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell each found the back of the net in the second period en route to a 2-0 victory. The final score could have been a lot worse if not for the play of Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who made 41 saves.

"We knew we couldn't lose going to Calgary," Nabokov said. "They were playing great hockey, and we just kept coming at them. It's a win, that's the most important thing. A shutout is icing on the cake. There's a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of fights ahead of us."

Indeed there was, although the Sharks appeared to be in great shape in the early going of Game 3. Less than four minutes into that contest, San Jose had a 3-0 lead. Ryane Clowe, Patrick Marleau and Douglas Murray helped the Sharks chase Kiprusoff and looked to be on the fast track to a 2-1 series lead.

Not so fast.

Flames coach Mike Keenan pulled Kiprusoff after Murray's tally in favor of Curtis Joseph, and it was just the spark Calgary needed. The Flames scored four unanswered goals, capped by Owen Nolan's game-winner with 3:45 remaining in the third period in a wild 4-3 decision at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

"You have to be men to play this sport, not a bunch of boys, and we looked like a bunch of boys out there and they were looking like a bunch of men," Nabokov said.

Game 4 could very well be the turning point of San Jose's postseason. After being held scoreless in the first three games, Thornton got the series even when he broke a 3-3 tie with 9.4 seconds remaining to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 victory. San Jose was trailing 2-1 going into the third period, but Jonathan Cheechoo erased the deficit with just 4:54 remaining. San Jose outshot the Flames 32-10 in the contest.

"I was just waiting until there was under 10 seconds left in the game," Thornton joked. "Perfect time."

The Sharks fed off the memorable victory, as Cheechoo scored a pair of goals early in the third period of Game 5 to give his club a 4-1 lead.

"It's just nice to contribute," Cheechoo said. "In the postseason, everybody has to contribute in their own way, whether it be on the score sheet or defensively blocking a shot. Whatever it may be, it's time to lay all the cards down."

But the pesky Flames put a scare into San Jose, as Daymond Langkow made it 4-2, and then David Moss made it a one-goal game with just 1:17 to play. The Sharks, however, escaped their rink with a 4-3 victory to take a 3-2 series lead.

"You're probably not going to win too many series if you don't string at least a couple together," Marleau said. "We were fortunate to get one tonight. The next one is going to be the toughest."

It was. With the Flames' season on the line, Kiprusoff stopped all 21 shots he faced in Game 6, while Nolan and Langkow found the back of the net in a 2-0 decision at the Pengrowth Saddledome. San Jose was forced to host a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history.

“Well, it's the seventh game, if you don't win you're out,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “If I have to manufacture desperation, we are in dire straits. Our players know what's at stake.”

Jeremy Roenick certainly did. The veteran center – who was benched in Game 6 – scored twice and added two assists as the Sharks avoided disaster with a 5-3 win at the Shark Tank.

"It was pretty depressing after we lost Game 6, but Ronny came up to me yesterday and said, 'We are really counting on you,'" Roenick said. "We were very dominant tonight. We dominated three-quarters of the game and showed why we were so good in the regular season."

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