Flames' slight edge in goal could be decisive factor in series
Posted: Friday May 14, 2004 4:36PM; Updated: Friday May 14, 2004 6:02PM
No. 2San Jose vs. No. 6Calgary
STORY OF THE SERIES
An old adage is coming true. These teams have played so similarly, both clubs showing their aggressiveness all over the ice, reminding us that when teams are so evenly matched, ultimately they are exactly as good as their goaltenders. In the first two games, which Calgary took, Sharks' goalie Evgeni Nabokov looked positively human. In Game 1, Calgary had by far the fewer chances, but pulled out the win thanks to a couple of goals that Nabokov might have stopped. Game 2 also boiled down to Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff outplaying Nabokov. And while Kiprusoff played quite well in Game 3 it was Nabokov's stonewalling that sealed the San Jose shutout and got the Sharks back in the series. Nabokov was especially superb in stopping Flames forward Jarome Iginla, and also in weathering a third-period Calgary storm. Remember these two goalies were teammates in San Jose until this year when the Sharks decided to let Kiprusoff go and stake their fortune with Nabokov. Now these guys have their respective teams' fate in their gloved hand.
SURPRISE OF THE SERIES
Calgary jumping out to a two-games-to-none lead. Everyone knows by now that the Flames have serious game, and it's no longer a head-spin to see them beating more talented opponents. But no matter how much you believed in Calgary, you could not have expected them to come out of the rollicking Shark tank in such control of the series. The biggest surprise was the early part of Game 2, in which the Flames took the play to the Sharks and were dominant for shift after shift. While Game 1 had a bit of a fluke feel to it -- Calgary needed unlikely overtime heroics to win it -- Game 2 seemed to be the perfect time for San Jose to respond with one of their full-team efforts that dazed the Blues and Avalanche earlier in this postseason. Instead, Calgary looked like the more polished team, surprising even themselves by flying home with a perfect record.
THE SHARKS WIN IF ...
They win Game 4. Given the Flames' punishing style and the level at which Kiprusoff is playing, it's hard to imagine San Jose beating the Flames three times in a row if they fall behind 3-1. The Sharks could also use a big game from Patrick Marleau, who has been held without a point and has been a low-impact player for most of the first three games. The Sharks' virtue is their depth, but with role players like Curtis Brown (-4) and Nils Ekman (healthy scratch in Game 3) struggling, they need a big game from their marquee player.
THE FLAMES WIN IF ...
They win Game 4. How long can Calgary's reservoir of energy last? They've already maintained their hard-rocking style for 16 playoff games and the extra day of rest between Games 3 and 4 come at good time. But then comes Game 5 just a day later and the end-of-series scheduling could end up taxing the Flames if they go into the final three games needing to win two. If Iginla, who has played marvelously in this series but with only goal to show so far, has a multiple-point game, the Flames will be very, very hard to beat.
The Sharks are still the better and deeper team, but Nabokov seems slightly more vulnerable than Kiprusoff, Iginla appears on the verge of a big night and the Flames seem to have that extra bit of hunger that should carry them through. Calgary, with its game advantage, will go on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.