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March 25, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Game Three between the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames turned on one hit; although, to be fair, it was one hell of a hit. Calling it a "hit" really doesn't describe its magnitude. It's kind of like saying an ordinary bomb decided World War II.
After winning Game Two to even the series, the Sharks swam into Calgary's Sea of Red and went on a feeding frenzy, ripping Mikka Kiprusoff for three goals of five shots in the game's opening 3:33. Ryan Clowe bagged a pair, one on a wrister from the slot and the other on a tip in front, before dangerous Doug Murray chased Kipper.
Mike Keenan, never shy about changing goalies, had seen enough. And it was a deserving hook. Kipper looked dreadful, particularly on the Murray goal. He literally spun around in his crease as Jonathan Cheechoo carried the puck behind the net and centered a pass to Murray. It was a wonderful imitation of a dreidel. Kipper, Kipper, Kipper, I made him out of clay...
With Curtis Joseph now manning the pipes, the Flames did their best to regroup. They got a little life when Dion Phaneuf beat Patrick Marleau to an icing, plastering the San Jose captain into the end boards for good measure. Marleau emerged with blood streaming from a cut outside his right eye. By the end of the night, he'd need some orange juice and a cookie.
About midway though the first period, Marleau gathered a loose puck along the left wing boards in the San Jose zone and tried to skate up ice. He didn't get very far. Cory Sarich exploded into Marleau, destroying him with a brutal shoulder check. It was clean, and it was spectacular.
The impact rattled windows for three city blocks. The devastation was so terrible, FEMA already botched the rescue effort.
Needless to say, a huge scrum ensued, with Matt Carle and Clowe out for revenge. As the refs were prying apart bodies, Marleau, still bleeding from the Phaneuf hit, staggered to his feet with a bloody nose. President Bush plans to fly over Marleau in the next few days to inspect the damage.
Not only did Sarich's hit ignite the Calgary faithful, it also resulted in a Flames power play. Give the stripes credit. Lesser men would have given Sarich a charge to even things up. But the hit was clean, and they treated it as such. Carle, Clowe, and Eric Godard got the only penalties, each earning two for roughing.
Calgary carried the play the rest of the period. Only a miraculous Nabokov left pad save on Daymond Langkow and an Aucoin blast off the crossbar kept the score 3-1 into the first intermission.
San Jose regrouped and came out more composed in the second, doing a good job of slowing down the Calgary stampede. The first 10 minutes were pretty uneventful, as the Sharks managed to sap a lot of the emotion from the building. That's when Eric Nystrom bolted up ice, using his speed to draw a questionable elbowing penalty to Kyle McLaren.
Langkow cashed in on the ensuing power play to cut the deficit to 3-2. Iginla started the play, skating down the left wall and dumping the puck to Owen Nolan below the goal line. Nolan worked the immediate give-and-go, slipping a pass to Iginla driving the net. Iggy's attempted shot got snuffed, but the puck trickled right to Langkow in front for the goal.
The score remained 3-2 until 1:18 of the third period. That's when Marleau, who was again trying to lug the puck up the left wing boards in the San Jose zone, apparently suffered crippling flashbacks to the Sarich hit.
With Langkow chasing him from behind and Nolan closing in from the front, Marleau couldn't get rid of the puck fast enough, resulting in a terrible turnover. Nolan swatted it back down the boards. Kristian Huselius snagged the biscuit, danced through the high slot, and found Phaneuf busting into the zone on left wing.
Phaneuf phaked the big slap shot to pull Nabokov out of his crease. Then, instead of dropping the hammer, Phaneuf phired a changeup in phront for a hard-charging Langkow. The shot struck Marc-Edouard Vlasic, ricocheting off his skate and stick before rattling behind Nabokov. The comeback was complete.
The Calgary crowd was still celebrating when the Flames got whistled for too many men on the ice. Was Don Cherry coaching? Joseph bailed out Keenan and crew, rising to the occasion to turn aside four San Jose shots on the power play, including a glorious Clowe chance from the doorstep.
Incredibly, with about six minutes to go in regulation, Joe Thornton had a good shift. Stop the presses! There's been a Joe Thornton sighting!
Thornton worked hard below the goal line to clean up his own zone, and then he raced up ice to be the first man in on the forecheck. His hustle helped win the puck, leading to a centering pass and a few anxious moments for the Flames. Ah, but the old Snow Thornton returned before long.
Three guesses who was screening Nabokov. Yes, sir, it was Jumbo Joe himself. Thornton was just standing there doing a whole lot of nothing. He was trying to pick up Langkow in front, but when Langkow jumped out of the way, Thornton remained rooted in place. Nabokov never saw the puck.
San Jose got a gift power play just 24 seconds later when Phaneuf batted the pill out of the air only to watch it sail over the glass. Yet even with one of their top penalty-killers in the box, the Flames wouldn't be denied.
Nolan, Tanguay, Sarich, Craig Conroy, Matthew Lombardi, Stephane Yelle, and Robyn Regehr combined to completely stifle the San Jose power play. A Craig Rivet dump-in from center was the only shot registered on the entire man-advantage.
The Sharks wouldn't get another sniff. Tanguay and Iginla each missed an open net in the final seconds, but the Flames still managed to hang on for the 4-3 win and the 2-1 series lead.
The Sharks have questionable character under the best of circumstances, so things could sour in a hurry. But with Marleau and Thornton, they have two of the best leaders in... aw, I'm sorry. I was trying to see if I could make it through that sentence without laughing. Yeah, I'm expecting the Sharks to fold like a cheap suit.
Evgeni Nabokov (21 saves): It's tough to fault Nabokov on any of the goals. They were all crazy deflections and whatnot. He also turned in another freakish save, robbing Langkow in the first period with the left toe.
Ryan Clowe: Clowe now leads the team with three goals and five points in the series. If not for CuJo, Clowe could have easily had the hat trick on that first power play of the third, fighting through an Aucoin check to snap a Thornton pass on net from about six feet away.
Matt Carle: Yeah, it turned out to be a bad penalty, but give Carle credit for roughing up Sarich after the Marleau hit. Whether it's a clean check or not, you can't let your teammate get drilled like that. I expected Clowe to answer the bell, but Carle? I didn't think he had it in him.
Owen Nolan: The former San Jose captain tormented his old team for a goal and two assists. His passing was sharp all night, and he's always a physical presence. But it took the luck of the Irish to get the winner short-side through that screen.
Curtis Joseph: While doing anything at Joseph's age is impressive, he was perfect in relief of Kiprusoff, stopping all 22 shots he faced. Let the goaltending controversy begin.
Keenan has to come back with Kipper in Game Four. Joseph is a good veteran backup. He did exactly what he's supposed to do. Now let Kipper do what he's supposed to do.
Dion Phaneuf: Phaneuf was phantastic. His first hit on Marleau got the ball rolling, and he delivered big plays at key times. It's nice seeing Phaneuf provide some offense. Before this series, he had two goals, zero assists, and a minus-12 in 13 career playoff games. He already has two goals and an assist against the Sharks.
Daymond Langkow: Langkow played his usual gritty game, getting in the middle of everything. He scored the second goal, helped create Phaneuf's tying tally, and was involved in screening Nabokov on Nolan's winner.
Cory Sarich: The Beatles never had a hit that big. But it was just one of a team-high four on the night, and he also registered an assist, logged 22:03 of ice time, and was huge on the penalty kill. Fear Sarich.