SAN JOSE, Calif. – The secret to the Calgary Flames’ improbable postseason success has a bushy red beard and an ugly, green hard hat.
Miikka Kiprusoff also has plenty of motivation against the San Jose Sharks, who got an early reminder of just how good their former backup goalie has become.
Steve Montador scored 18:43 into overtime, and Kiprusoff stopped 49 shots in Calgary’s 4-3 victory over the Sharks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
Kiprusoff called it the busiest game of his life, and he still was soaked in sweat when his teammates presented him with the hard hat – the Flames’ reward for the hardest-working player in every game. Kiprusoff wore it proudly in the building where he was Evgeni Nabokov’s backup for three seasons.
“It’s fun to be here against (the Sharks), but I don’t think it makes any difference,” Kiprusoff said. “It’s the finals. That’s enough.”
Alex Korolyuk scored with 3:21 left in regulation to force overtime for the Sharks, who set a franchise playoff record with 52 shots and controlled large stretches of play.
But Kiprusoff, who became a star after the Sharks traded him to Calgary last November, was tough to beat – and the Flames took advantage of a botched line change to score the winner.
The Sharks held Flames captain Jarome Iginla without a shot in regulation and also dominated overtime, outshooting Calgary 12-5 – but Iginla made the game-winning pass to Montador. The low-scoring, seldom-used defenseman skated untouched into the slot, rapped his stick on the ice and beat Nabokov, who made 33 saves.
“I think the crowd was going, and I wanted to make sure that Jarome could hear me,” Montador said. “I just said, ‘Thanks for listening.’ ”
Game 2 is Tuesday night in San Jose.
Craig Conroy got two goals, and Krzysztof Oliwa also scored for the Flames, who won for the fourth straight time in five overtime playoff games. San Jose lost its third straight OT contest.
Calgary followed its second-round upset of Detroit, which included two OT wins, by stealing home-ice advantage from the Sharks in the opener of the Flames’ first trip to the conference finals since 1989.
“We’ve been able to steal games while they’re all over us,” Conroy said. “Kipper gave us a chance. We have a whole different kind of confidence with him back there.”
Mike Ricci and Todd Harvey scored in the second period for the Sharks, who have lost two straight home playoff games after winning their first five to earn the franchise’s first trip to the conference finals.
“We’ve got more where that came from,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “It’s disappointing to lose the game the way we did, on kind of a detail thing, a bad change. With 52 shots, I think we could have had 62 shots. We’ll play the same way the next game, take our chances.”
Both teams stuck to the strategies that propelled them into this unlikely matchup of teams that missed the playoffs last season. San Jose rallied from 14th place in the conference last spring to the best season in franchise history, while the sixth-seeded Flames ended an eight-season playoff drought before upsetting Vancouver and Detroit.
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