Handful of keys to victory

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:17 PM ET

 Without a doubt, the 3-0 score on Thursday flattered the Sharks.

 San Jose deserved to win Game 3 of the best-of-seven Western Conference final, sure.

  The final count just suggests the game was one-sided. Which, we all know, wasn't the case.

 True, the Calgary Flames didn't light the lamp and it's downright impossible to win without doing that. However, that match was essentially a 1-0 game with a successful late breakaway coming from one breakdown and an empty-netter.

 Really, not much different from Calgary's 4-1 win in Game 2, a tight game that finished with a three-goal discrepancy.

 Knowing how small the margin for error is at this point in the post-season party, little things add up to a big deal.

 Watch for these keys from a Flames club looking to use today's afternoon meeting at the 'Dome to gain a stranglehold on the set.

 * HITTING: Throughout the playoffs, the Flames have won by being physical. Vancouver's defence -- notably Brent Sopel and Mattias Ohlund -- wore down thanks to the steady stream of contact. The first two games in San Jose saw plenty of bodies being hurtled, too.

 Thursday, that wasn't the case. No wonder the Flames lost.

 * FORECHECK: To a man, Flames forwards agree they weren't moving well enough in the offensive zone to generate a consistent forecheck.

 "I don't think we got the puck behind them consistently," said Shean Donovan. "They played with five guys back at times and played Sharks hockey but we didn't take it to them like I thought we could. There wasn't a consistent level of it."

 * BEARING DOWN ON CHANCES: Simply put, 34 shots is too many to register without scoring. Evgeni Nabokov's work between the San Jose pipes was outstanding. Still, far too many golden opportunities went into Nabokov's bread-basket or legs or wide.

 * POWERPLAY: Curiously, last game was probably the best effort in a while -- at least in terms of gaining shots on goal while on the man-advantage. In one powerplay, there were four shots on Nabokov in a 32-second span. A new wrinkle came with Jarome Iginla moving to a point position, sometimes in place of Andrew Ference and other times to create an umbrella formation -- and it paid off.

 Still, Calgary goes into this game without a powerplay goal in six games, an 0-for-17 drought.

 * DRIVING THE NET: Since the playoffs started, opposing teams have talked endlessly about getting more traffic in front of Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. That tune is now emanating out of the Flames dressing room regarding Nabokov.

 Give credit where it's due -- the Sharks defence did a good job of preventing the Flames from creating chaos and now the onus is on Calgary to fight that much harder to reach the crease and make life difficult for the San Jose 'keeper.

 * DEFENCEMEN QUICKER ON THE PUCK: In both zones, too many races were lost. Decisions to pinch in the offensive zone weren't made fast enough and cost them on the game-winning goal. It was no better in the defensive zone, where San Jose's forecheckers reached the puck first and created chances.

 Improving in all those areas may not be enough against a Sharks team that knows a loss will put them in a huge hole. The Flames have to be better to give themselves a chance.

 "We're a team that needs all cylinders firing and everything in the game going well," said Ference. "If we don't, we squeak one out or just don't win."


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