SAN JOSE, Calif. – Something about the teal jerseys, the white pompons and the Shark Tank’s earsplitting crowd inspires fantastic hockey from Stephane Yelle and his teammates.
Yes, nobody loves a playoff game in San Jose more than the Calgary Flames, who got off to another fine start against their favourite post-season hosts. Yelle scored two goals, Miikka Kiprusoff made 37 saves and the seventh-seeded Flames stunned the NHL’s second-best regular season team in their first-round opener, beating the Sharks 3-2 Wednesday night.
Dion Phaneuf also scored a power-play goal for the Flames, who kicked off the best-of-seven Western Conference series with their fourth straight post-season win in San Jose. Calgary got three opportunistic goals and made a late defensive scramble to hang on for a win that’s sure to start stomachs churning in the oft-disappointed rink that the Flames love to silence.
“It’s a long grind, and you need bounces, you need luck,” said Yelle, who hadn’t scored a goal since Jan. 22. “Those are key to get far in the playoffs.”
Game 2 is Thursday night.
The Sharks’ 108-point regular season and No. 2 seed were forgotten when the Flames went ahead 2-0 in the first 5:17 of yet another big victory in San Jose, where Calgary swept all three of its games in the 2004 Western Conference finals – the last playoff series the Flames won. Calgary also won two of its three games in San Jose during the 1995 playoffs, giving the Flames six wins in seven post-season games at the Shark Tank.
“We earned this game,” Flames forward Craig Conroy said. “We have a lot of players here who have done well in this building, guys who were here in the 2004 playoffs. We came in here, the building was alive, and we took the building out of it early. We know it will be harder tomorrow, but now they have more pressure on them.”
Yelle, the two-time Stanley Cup winner who managed just one playoff point against the Sharks four years ago, capitalized on a deflection and a rebound in the first multigoal game of his 148 career post-season appearances.
Ryane Clowe scored two goals as San Jose outshot Calgary 39-23, but the Flames generated three goals in the first 40 minutes and then held on after Clowe’s second goal with 56 seconds to play. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 20 shots for the Sharks, who hadn’t lost a home game in regulation since Feb. 14.
San Jose’s rocky playoff start was disturbingly familiar to its fans, who have watched their talented Sharks crash out of the playoffs’ second round in two straight springs. San Jose had 108 points in the regular season, finishing behind only Detroit after a 20-game streak without a regulation defeat from mid-February to early April.
“I thought we came out with the right intentions, but maybe we were kind of tight, and they were really hungry,” Clowe said. “We definitely have to be more hungry, more of that dog-with-a-bone mentality. Overall, they wanted it more.”
Joe Thornton, who had just one assist against Phaneuf and the Flames in four regular-season meetings, was shut down until he set up Clowe’s second goal from behind the net. The NHL’s fifth-leading scorer also hit the post on a breakaway chance in the opening minute of the third period.
“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,” Thornton said.
With hard-hitting veterans and a sturdy defence, the Flames are built like the Sharks of old – no surprise, since former San Jose coach Darryl Sutter runs Calgary’s hockey operations. Calgary came out intent on hitting the Sharks hard, finishing their checks and creating contact to follow the game plan established by Edmonton and Detroit in San Jose’s last two post-season losses.
The Flames went ahead when Yelle nimbly deflected Robyn Regehr’s slap shot past Nabokov just 2:47 in, and after Kyle McLaren took a penalty, Phaneuf added a power-play goal that quieted the Shark Tank.
“When you can defuse that enthusiasm by scoring early, especially on the road, it definitely helps,” said Calgary coach Mike Keenan, who won his first playoff game since 1996.
San Jose recovered 49 seconds after Phaneuf’s score when Clowe banged a pass from captain Patrick Marleau past Kiprusoff, who was woefully out of position. The goal was Clowe’s first since his recent return from a knee injury that kept him out for all but 15 games of the regular season.
Aside from Kristian Huselius’ deflected shot off the crossbar early in the second period, Calgary generated almost no offensive chances after its initial outburst, playing more than 20 minutes with just two shots.
Yet the Flames went up 3-1 late in the period when Jarome Iginla stole the puck from the flat-footed Brian Campbell and broke away down the right side. Yelle potted the rebound as Iginla knocked the net off the moorings, and the goal was upheld after an extensive video review.
Notes: San Jose D Alexei Semenov suited up in place of Christian Ehrhoff, who has an undisclosed injury. Wilson said Matt Carle and rookie Devin Setoguchi are likely to be in the Sharks’ lineup for Game 2, but Ehrhoff probably isn’t ready. … Sharks C Torrey Mitchell, D Doug Murray and enforcer Jody Shelley all made their NHL playoff debuts. … Phaneuf turns 23 on Thursday.