Flames singe Sharks

Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2004

SAN JOSE, Calif. Marcus Nilson's shot would have made a pinball wizard proud.

The shot hit Scott Hannan's leg, ricocheted off Jason Marshall's skate and caromed into the San Jose Sharks' net just 20 seconds after the opening faceoff.

The goal tilted the Western Conference finals toward the Calgary Flames. They followed that bit of pure luck with another showcase of tremendous skill and now they're halfway to their first Stanley Cup finals in 15 years.

Linemates Nilson, Shean Donovan and Ville Nieminen each had a goal and an assist, and the Flames remained kings of the playoff road with a 4-1 victory over the Sharks in Game 2 Tuesday night.

Nilson matched the fastest goal in Calgary's postseason history, but the resulting blow to the Sharks' psyche was even more important. The accidental goal put San Jose in a hole it never escaped.

''It's tough to come back from something like that,'' Nilson said. ''But we did the hard work to back it up, too. We earned the win.''

Donovan scored 10 minutes after Nilson's goal, and Nieminen and captain Jarome Iginla clinched the victory with third-period goals 44 seconds apart. That sent the sixth-seeded Flames back home with an improbable 2-0 series lead over the Pacific Division champions.

''We'd be lying if we said this is what we expected, but it's a tremendous bonus,'' center Craig Conroy said. ''This is definitely the most special season I've had, and it just seems like anything can happen now.''

Game 3 is Thursday night at the Saddledome, where the Flames are just 3-3 in the playoffs. But thanks to a 7-2 road record that includes three straight wins, they've got a great shot at their first Cup finals since 1989, when they won the franchise's only championship.

Miikka Kiprusoff followed his 49-save performance in the opener with just 17 saves, including a handful of fine stops in the final minutes. With a fast start, puck possession and relentless forechecking three of San Jose's hallmarks Calgary shocked the sold-out Shark Tank into silence.

''I know from being on the other side of it, you get scored on in the first minute, it's hard,'' Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said. ''Then you get another one, and it's not that far removed from where they were down 2-0 in Game 1. It trickles back in.''

Alyn McCauley scored for the Sharks, who lost consecutive games for just the second time since early March. After starting the playoffs with seven wins in eight games, San Jose has lost four of its last five, including three straight at home. Its first trip to the conference finals has been humiliating so far.

''We've dug a heck of a hole for ourselves, but it's not impossible to get out,'' said Sharks coach Ron Wilson, who will consider lineup changes for Game 3. ''We have to recapture the style of play that made us successful in the first two rounds. Hopefully it will be easier to calm the situation down on the road.''

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