SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Calgary Flames are off to a fine playoff start, and the San Jose Sharks can start worrying again.
Stephane Yelle scored two goals, Miikka Kiprusoff made 37 saves and the seventh-seeded Flames stunned the NHL’s second-best regular season team in their first-round opener, beating the Sharks 3-2 on Wednesday night.
Dion Phaneuf also scored a power-play goal for the Flames, who opened the best-of-seven Western Conference series with three opportunistic goals and a late defensive scramble to win a game largely controlled by the Sharks. Game 2 is Thursday night.
Ryane Clowe scored two goals as San Jose outshot Calgary 39-23, but the Flames generated three scores in the first 40 minutes and then held on after Clowe’s second score with 56 seconds to play.
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 20 shots for the Sharks, who hadn’t lost a home game in regulation since Feb. 14. San Jose’s 108-point regular season and No. 2 seed didn’t help when the Flames went ahead 2-0 in the first 5:17 minutes of their fourth straight playoff win at the Shark Tank, where Calgary swept all three of its games in the 2004 Western Conference finals – the last playoff series the Flames won.
Calgary also won two of its three games in San Jose during the 1995 playoffs, giving the Flames six wins in seven post-season games at the Shark Tank. This victory was the first playoff win for veteran Calgary coach Mike Keenan since 1996.
San Jose’s rocky playoff start was disturbingly familiar to its fans, who have watched their talented Sharks crash out of the playoffs’ second round in two straight springs. San Jose had 108 points in the regular season, finishing behind only Detroit after a 20-game streak without a regulation loss from mid-February to early April.
Joe Thornton, who had just one assist against Phaneuf and the Flames in four regular-season meetings, was shut down until he set up Clowe’s second goal from behind the net. The NHL’s fifth-leading scorer also hit the post on a breakaway chance in the opening minute of the third period.
Yelle, the two-time Stanley Cup winner who managed just one playoff point against the Sharks four years ago, capitalized on a deflection and a rebound in the first multi-goal game of his 148 career post-season appearances.
With hard-hitting veterans and a sturdy defence, the Flames are built like the Sharks of old – no surprise, since former San Jose coach Darryl Sutter runs Calgary’s hockey operations. Calgary came out intent on hitting the Sharks hard, finishing their checks and creating contact to follow the game plan established by Edmonton and Detroit in San Jose’s last two post-season losses.
The Flames went ahead when Yelle nimbly deflected Robyn Regehr’s slap shot past Nabokov just 2:47 in. After Kyle McLaren took a penalty, Phaneuf added a power-play goal that quieted the Shark Tank. It got rocking again 49 seconds later when Clowe banged a pass from captain Patrick Marleau past Kiprusoff, who was woefully out of position.
The goal was Clowe’s first since his recent return from a knee injury that kept him out for all but 15 games of the regular season.
Aside from Kristian Huselius’ deflected shot off the crossbar early in the second period, Calgary generated almost no offensive chances after its initial outburst, playing more than 20 minutes with just two shots.
Yet the Flames went up 3-1 late in the period when Jarome Iginla stole the puck from the flat-footed Brian Campbell and broke away down the right side. Yelle knocked home the rebound as Iginla knocked the net off the moorings, and the goal was upheld after an extensive video review.
Notes: San Jose D Alexei Semenov suited up in place of Christian Ehrhoff, who has an undisclosed injury. … Sharks C Torrey Mitchell made his NHL playoff debut, while fellow rookie Devin Setoguchi was a healthy scratch along with Marcel Goc. … Phaneuf turns 22 on Thursday.