SAN JOSE, Calif. – According to the schedule, the Calgary Flames are headed home with a chance to close out the Western Conference finals.
In reality, the Flames have made themselves at home everywhere except Calgary in the playoffs – and that’s working out just fine for the NHL’s most surprising road warriors.
Jarome Iginla got things started with a short-handed goal, Miikka Kiprusoff got his fourth shutout of the playoffs, and the Flames beat the San Jose Sharks 3-0 Monday night in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.
With their eighth road victory of the postseason, the Flames are closing in on the NHL record of 10 road playoff wins, set by the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and 2000. What’s more, they’re doing it in style – dominating the Sharks for the second straight time in San Jose while rebounding from consecutive losses in Calgary.
Maybe the Flames’ white jerseys just fit better. Maybe they burn boos for fuel. Maybe they love the silence of a building full of disheartened fans.
For whatever reason, the Flames are thoroughly enjoying the comforts of road.
“It’s definitely different, what we’re doing this year,” said Iginla, who leads the NHL with 16 postseason points. “I can’t put my finger on why it’s working out this way. I don’t think anybody can. It’s kind of fun, though.”
Game 6 is Wednesday night in Calgary, where the Sharks will face elimination for the first time in the postseason. The Flames have been in plenty of tight spots already this spring: All three of their playoff series were tied after four games, and Calgary won all three Game 5s.
The visiting team has won every game in the series.
Playing with confidence and yet another 2-0 first-period lead at the sold-out Shark Tank, the sixth-seeded Flames moved to the brink of their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 1989, when they won the franchise’s only championship. Calgary hopes to be Canada’s first representative in the finals since 1994.
Marcus Nilson also scored in the first period, while Iginla and Craig Conroy scored unassisted goals resulting from inexcusable mental lapses by the Sharks, who lost all the poise they showed in their two victories at the Saddledome.
“Where that performance came from, I really have no idea,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “It wasn’t one or two guys. It was almost the whole team struggling. You have to give Calgary some credit, but we really did a pretty good job of shooting ourselves in the foot with some very elementary mistakes.”
Evgeni Nabokov made 18 saves for the Sharks, who have lost four straight home playoff games. The Sharks seemed confident following a dominant 4-2 victory in Game 4 – but 24 hours later, San Jose fell behind early and never showed much life. The Sharks’ fans booed them off the ice after each of the final two periods.
“We didn’t play hard, and I can’t explain that,” center Vincent Damphousse said. “We’ve been battling the odds ever since the beginning of the series, and we’ll try to do it again. There’s a lot of things we can do better. We just have to keep winning road games. That seems to be the trend.”
Kiprusoff, pulled before the third period of Game 4, was barely tested by the sleepwalking Sharks, who had only a few scoring chances among their 19 shots.
“Things change fast here,” Kiprusoff said.
Iginla’s NHL-leading ninth goal of the playoffs resulted from two mental errors typical of the mistakes made by San Jose at home in the last two weeks.
The Sharks were settling into their first power play when Damphousse’s slow pass along the blue line was intercepted by Iginla. He outskated two Sharks and slid the puck under Nabokov.
Nilson scored his second goal of the series on a broken play 2 minutes later.
Conroy added his fifth goal of the postseason midway through the second period when Sharks defenseman Kyle McLaren loafed after a deflection.
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