SUN Hockey Pool

Nabby grabs victory

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:12 AM ET

Parading past reporters in the press box shortly after puck drop were eight San Jose Sharks players wearing suits and dress shoes instead of pads and skates.

It's hard to believe that many regulars out of their lineup wouldn't give the Calgary Flames an advantage at the Saddledome with the Northwest Division title still up for grabs.

And the loss leaves them just one point ahead of the hard-charging Vancouver Canucks, who, with a win tonight in Minnesota, would take over top spot in the division.

Meanwhile, the only thing for the Sharks left to lock up is the Presidents' Trophy, and they had enough star power remaining in the lineup to take another step toward it with a 2-1 win last night.

Evgeni Nabokov led the way with 28 saves, at least a half-dozen of them preventing the momentum from swaying the Flames' way.

"Nabokov played an excellent game," said head coach Mike Keenan. "I thought our ability to put this team away was there considering the number of injuries they had. I've always told our club, if you are playing against a team with a lot of injuries, often it's a dangerous team. A lot of people are going to get more ice time than they normally would, and sometimes that's energizing to the group."

It was the regulars who made the difference for the Sharks.

Rarely allowing a second attempt on a rebound all night, Nabokov was especially stellar in the later stages of the game as the Flames got more desperate.

He got the best of Curtis Glencross as the Flames winger went to bat the puck out of the air only to hit blocker in the second period.

"We kind of both hit it at the same time. Maybe he got there a little sooner than me," Glencross said of Nabokov's stab. "It's a bounce that could go either way, and obviously the bounces aren't going my way, right now."

Forced to stick Joe Thornton on the top line with an underachieving and banged-up Jonathan Cheechoo and veteran Jeremy Roenick, the Sharks are more than making due despite their many absentees.

Cheechoo tipped in the 10th goal of his personally disappointing season, as Roenick providing a screen in front of Miikka Kiprusoff to give the visitors a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Dan Boyle scored on a five-on-three advantage before Jarome Iginla responded with his 32nd of the season later in the first period.

Cheechoo, a former 50-goal scorer, nearly netted his second goal of the night in the third period as he stared at an empty net. But Kiprusoff dove back paddle-first and got the wood on Cheechoo's attempt at the last second to send it wide and leave things up in the air right to the final buzzer.

Following that sound was an air of disappointment in the Saddledome as 18,289 fans went home wondering how their Flames let the handicapped Sharks got the best of them.

There was some head scratching in the locker-room, too.

"Absolutely," Glencross said when asked if he thought they should have beaten the banged-up Sharkies.

"We feel that we kind of hurt ourselves. It was a bad (penalty-kill) goal. I got caught out of position myself, and we had a turnover down low. We can't make those kind of mistakes this time of year."

The Flames carried much of the play but were denied by Nabokov and an opportunistic bunch of Sharks.

"Two-thirds of the game, at least, we kind of took over," said Glencross, whose Flames limited the opposition to 19 shots on the night.

Iginla agreed the game seemed to be going their way overall.

"We weren't outplayed by any means," he said. "We had some scoring chances, and we limited their chances a lot."

Although he beat Nabokov through the legs with Brad Lukowich screening his own goaltender, Iginla's mistake led to Cheechoo's deflection of Lukowich's point shot.

"I had a giveaway in the middle and it ended up going in our net," Iginla said.

"That's the winning goal."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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