Kipper winning duel

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:56 PM ET


 A rookie reporter approached Ville Nieminen before the series, looking for a sliver of wisdom as to where shooters could find cracks in San Jose's sheet of plywood, Evgeni Nabokov.

 High?

 Low?

 Five-hole?

 The Calgary Flames left-winger grinned, hand over his mouth, as if to reveal a valued dressing room secret too precious for public consumption.

 "Shoot low," he whispered.

 Yup, trusty words indeed, again proving truth is the first casualty in a hockey war.

 Last night, Nieminen and teammate Jarome Ignla both shredded Nabokov by whipping shots high over the Sharks goalie's blocker while Shean Donovan relied on a deft deke. Marcus Nilson's double-bank trick shot to open the scoring was the only fluke in a convincing 4-1 win.

 Nabokov is now down 2-0 in this cage match with former teammate Miikka Kiprusoff, despite the Sharks owning a 70-57 shot advantage through two games.

 "I've never been down 2-0 (in a series) and it's not going to be easy," Nabokov admitted, looking ahead to tomorrow night's clash under the raucous 'Dome.

 "We've got to go there and we have to win two games on the road.

 "We've been outworked, we've been out-smarted and we've been outchanced.

 "We have to get together and be better defensively. As much as we give the credit to the defence all the time, I don't think it was the case (last night) and it's the whole team, including me.

 "We have to find a way to battle through that and it's not going to be easy."

 Nabokov made just 16 saves and has been outduelled by the Flames goaltender, deemed expendable last November and shipped to Calgary for a conditional draft pick next spring.

 Nabokov entered the Western Conference final sporting a remarkable 1.34 GAA earned in series wins over St. Louis and Colorado. Through two games against Calgary, his GAA has ballooned to 3.47 while his save percentage has tumbled to .860, presumably along with his confidence.

 Who would have thought goaltending, seemingly a Sharks advantage heading into the series, would be a weak link thus far?

 The Shark Tanks' teal troops even turned on their crease saviour last night, serving up derisive cheers when Nabokov turned aside a long, weak effort in the dying minutes.

 While Nabokov was letting past pucks he normally stops, Kiprusoff was brilliant at the other end. The Finn, who months ago earned the No. 1 spot in Calgary ahead of Roman Turek, again flashed the performance that has made him a Flames fan favourite.

 Kiprusoff's best effort saw him darting across the crease, post-to-post, making a startling stop with his blocker off Sharks sniper Nicholas Dimitrakos, preserving a 2-1 lead.

 With the Sharks pressing for the tying goal 12 minutes into the third period, Nieminen and Iginla both beat Nabokov high to his blocker side, ensuring a 2-0 series lead.

 Sharks coach Ron Wilson must have been wishing he could look to the end of the bench to summon Kiprusoff into the action for Game 3. Alas, relatively untested Vesa Toskala now occupies the No. 2 seat at the end of the pine. Now Nabokov must wade into the Sea of Red, baring his teeth for Games 3 and 4, if the Sharks are to survive.


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