Flames squander 'Dome ice

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:37 PM ET


 Gone in 128 seconds.

 Gone in 128 seconds.

 It was all there for the Calgary Flames in their quest to take a chokehold on the Western Conference series.

 They had momentum from a game-tying goal.

 They had a frenzied Saddledome gathering of 19,279 spurring them on for the go-ahead tally.

 The opportunity to take a massive 3-1 series lead was in their hands.

 Then, like the victim of a Great White attack, they were dead in the water.

 Little more than two minutes after Flames captain Jarome Iginla tied yesterday's matinee, Jonathan Cheechoo and Vincent Damphousse inflicted the fatal wounds that paced the Sharks to a 4-2 victory and evened the best-of-seven affair at two wins apiece.

 "There was an opportunity to really squeeze them but we didn't get it," said Iginla. "That's partly our fault and partly their doing, too. They found a way to win two tough games.

 "Now it's our turn to step up."

 A few days ago, there was talk of a sweep, as if the two wins in San Jose to open the series made the affair a done deal.

 Now, there will be talk of missed opportunities and questions about whether the Flames can regroup for tonight's swing game in Silicon Valley.

 "The good news is we get to play again right away," said a calm Darryl Sutter.

 "Hey, man, if somebody told us we would be 2-2 in the conference finals, I'm sure we would have said, 'Hey, that's where we want to be.' "

 True but not in this manner. After winning the first two games, the Flames appeared on the verge of taking their Cinderella run to the final. Instead of making the most of that chance, they were outscored by a 7-2 margin on 'Dome ice and left reeling from being completely outplayed yesterday.

 Said Flames veteran Stephane Yelle: "We have a bunch of guys who've been around and we all talk to keep the guys on the same page. There was no talking sweep. We've got 24 hours to get ready and go out there.

 "After a loss, sometimes it's the best thing."

 Maybe so but there are causes for concern:

 * The Flames powerplay went 0-for-3 in the opening period.

 * Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was victimized for four goals on 16 shots and yanked in favour of Roman Turek for the third .

 * Discipline has been sadly lacking and cost them.

 * Miscues, namely turnovers, are suddenly resulting in goals.

 Sure, the Flames have plenty of experience on which to draw -- both the previous series were tied

 2-2 and Kiprusoff has an impressive history of bouncing back after surrendering four or more goals.

 But San Jose has taken control of the series by stifling Calgary's suddenly pop-gun offence.

 "It's gonna be a battle and it should be a battle. It's the semifinals of the Stanley Cup," Iginla said.

 "It's not going to be easy but it doesn't matter as long as we get it done. We have to draw on everything here and it's a best of three. It would have been great to be up 3-0 or 3-1 but we still believe in ourselves."

 Mike Rathje and Patrick Marleau also tallied for San Jose, with Chris Simon providing a meaningless

 5-on-3 powerplay goal for Calgary with 40 ticks left on the clock.

 That was followed by some more late-game shenanigans, mainly a skirmish started when Chuck Kobasew took the feet out from under Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

 Iginla's contribution was a near scrap with Brad Stuart.

 "(Iginla) is just frustrated," said Sharks coach Ron Wilson. "He's frustrated as heck. We saw that with Peter Forsberg, we have seen it with Keith Tkachuk. This is the third series we have played in where there's been a great superstar player on the other team ... and our defence has risen to the occasion."


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