CALGARY - Joe Thornton's first goal of this year's NHL playoffs was a big one.
Thornton scored the winner with just 9.4 seconds left in regulation in the San Jose Sharks' 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. The best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series is deadlocked at 2-2 heading into Thursday's Game 5 in San Jose. The Sharks' assistant captain, who was his team's leading goal-scorer during the regular season, had been under some scrutiny after failing to score in the first three games of this series.
"I was just waiting until there was under 10 seconds left in the game," Thornton joked. "Perfect time."
He tipped Douglas Murray's shot from the point past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to salvage the win in which the Sharks trailed twice.
"Dougie made a great shot and I just happened to throw my stick on it," Thornton explained.
The Flames set a franchise low for shots on goal in a playoff game, mustering just 10 on Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. The previous low was 15.
"Any time you get outshot 32-10 at home, that means you didn't come to work and you didn't put in the effort," Flames head coach Mike Keenan said.
"We carried some play early, but it was all San Jose after that. The completely outplayed us."
Ryane Clowe scored his fourth of the series and contributed an assist and Jonathan Cheechoo notched his first for the Sharks.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla had a goal and an assist and Dion Phaneuf also scored.
Kiprusoff, who was pulled just three and a half minutes into Sunday's Game 3 after giving up three goals, stopped 29 of 32 shots.
The game was almost the reverse of Game 3 in which the Flames started slowly and gained momentum to pull off a 4-3 win. The Sharks were slow out of the gates this time, but had a strong finishing kick.
The Flames controlled the play in the opening period by scoring first, pressuring the Sharks in their own zone and taking time and space away from San Jose when they had the puck.
But the Sharks began wresting some momentum back in the second with Clowe's power-play goal at 10:54, before Phaneuf restored Calgary's lead at 18:29.
Cheechoo deadlocked the game 2-2 at 15:06 of the third period. His sharp-angled shot found a hole between Kiprusoff's shoulder and the crossbar.
"After the first period, we settled down and had a great second period and said to ourselves 'If we come out and have a great third period, we can really get back in this game,"' Thornton said. "We just kept pounding shots at Kipper and Cheech, what a shot that was.
"The game's not over until that buzzer rings and we played right to the end tonight."
In the second period, Iginla won a faceoff and sent the puck back to Phaneuf, who beat Nabokov on a shot from the point through traffic to give Calgary a 2-1 lead.
Clowe tied the game 1-1 with a backhanded redirect of Patrick Marleau's shot from the point.
Craig Conroy missed the net on a two-on-one with Alex Tanguay in the first two minutes of the game, but the Flames retained control of the puck off that play and Iginla scored on a broken give-and-go with Daymond Langkow.
Iginla whipped the puck across the front of Nabokov and over his stick at 3:19 on Calgary's second shot of the game.
The Flames didn't register another shot on goal the rest of the period and it would be almost 24 minutes before they had another.
Sharks winger Jody Shelley dug his stick into the back of Kiprusoff's right leg while the Flames goalie was heading to the bench after a whistle late in the first. Kiprusoff dropped to his knees, but was unhurt. Shelley was penalized for roughing.
The 19,289 spectators, almost all of whom wore the Flames' red jersey, were still pumped from Calgary's come-from-behind win Sunday and started chanting 10 minutes before the opening faceoff.
Notes: Sharks defenceman Christian Ehrhoff played his first game of the playoffs after missing the previous three with what the team called a lower body injury. The Sharks played seven defencemen . . . Sharks rookie forward Devin Setoguchi of Taber, Alta., appeared in his first career NHL playoff game and had an assist . . . The Flames recalled goaltender Curtis McElhinney and forwards Brandon Prust, Grant Stevenson and David Van der Gulik, from the AHL's Quad City Flames.
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