Despite warp-speed win, Calgary wants to slow down

Updated: May 11, 2004, 3:14 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Though Darryl Sutter enjoys full-tilt hockey as much as the next fan, the Calgary coach hopes the rest of the Western Conference finals is much less exciting than the opener.

The Flames won 4-3 in overtime despite spending much of the game chasing the speedy Sharks, who got more than twice as many scoring chances as Calgary, according to San Jose coach Ron Wilson. But thanks to goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, who made 49 saves, the Flames stole a victory played at the Sharks' breakneck pace.

"Hopefully we've learned we can't fight fire with gasoline," Sutter said Monday after the Flames' practice at San Jose's training complex.

Wilson plans to change nothing for Game 2 on Tuesday night, when the Sharks must win to avoid falling behind 2-0 in the series. Except for occasional defensive lapses, San Jose's effort was tough to criticize -- so the coach emphasized the positives.

"Our whole goal is to maintain the tempo that we played at, and to eliminate a couple of the mental mistakes that we made in being overly aggressive," Wilson said.

The sixth-seeded Flames have excelled against supposedly superior offensive clubs during their run through the playoffs: Vancouver and Detroit both enjoyed similar shot advantages at points in their series. Calgary hung on, though Sutter thinks holding off the Sharks will be the toughest task yet.

Still, the firewagon tempo made for thrilling hockey -- particularly in the third period and overtime, when neither team retreated into the defensive shells that often typify postseason hockey. Calgary took 13 of its 37 shots in the third period, and San Jose had 12 in overtime.

The Flames and Sharks kept coming right at each other, with San Jose winning most of the small battles before Calgary defenseman Steve Montador sneaked in for the winner. Montador called his relatives to celebrate his first NHL postseason goal after the game, but he was back to business at practice.

"Had we not had Miikka in there in the first and second periods, with the kind of scoring chances they were getting, we wouldn't have won the game," Montador said. "There are a few things we've got to shore up and correct, and we worked on that."

The Sharks worked on finishing their scoring chances and driving the net relentlessly. Wilson wants more pressure on Kiprusoff to force the goalie to make more saves in succession, since the Sharks had very few rushes with multiple chances to score.

Those rushes were a hallmark of the Sharks this season, when their speed-based lineup surprised dozens of opponents with relentless forechecking and strong passing. The Flames prefer a slower, tactical approach to offense, but their young forwards were drawn to the Sharks' pace.

Wilson stayed true to his plan to avoid specific matchups against Flames captain Jarome Iginla -- and the Sharks justified his confidence by holding the playoff scoring co-leader without a shot until midway through overtime. But as goalie Evgeni Nabokov expected, the rest of Iginla's line picked up the slack: Craig Conroy scored two goals.

"The game at this level is a bunch of momentums," said Nabokov, who allowed more than three goals for just the second time in the postseason. "If you score when you have that momentum, you're going to win. We had a lot of momentum, more than they did, but we couldn't always score. I don't know if it's working harder or smarter, or just being in the right place at the right time.

"Their last goal, that was Darryl's type of hockey. They just worked hard and kept waiting for their opportunity.

Despite the tensions and pitfalls of a wide-open game at such a late point in the spring, even the players appreciated its entertainment value. Television ratings are expected to be minuscule for a series matching two teams with no international superstars or teams from major American hockey markets -- but there's plenty to watch.

"Everyone is saying there's a lack of big stars in our series, but I think if people watch, they're going to be really entertained by some fast-paced hockey," Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "There's never a dull moment."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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