Flames need their A-game

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET


 Triumph.

 Elation.

 Relief.

 It's the usual progression of emotions when a team scores in overtime.

 No doubt that's what the Calgary Flames went through yesterday afternoon after their 4-3 victory over the host San Jose Sharks. It's likely relief was felt long into the night and will still be felt today as they prepare for tomorrow's Game 2 in the Shark Tank.

 Indeed, the Flames can accept full credit for winning Game 1 of the NHL's Western Conference final.

 They deserve praise for getting the win and showing their trademark resilience.

 Whether they deserve to hold the series lead, however, is debatable.

 If not for the heroics of Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, yesterday's win could have been a lopsided loss.

 The Flames not only allowed 52 shots; their play directly in front of Kiprusoff was spotty and inconsistent.

 Sure, the Flames got off to an outstanding start offensively by grabbing an early 2-0 lead but the defence was scrambling in front of Kiprusoff throughout the first period and for long stretches during the game.

 Kiprusoff turned aside all 18 shots in that opening frame, including a couple each in tight by skilled Sharks Alexander Korolyuk and Vincent Damphousse, to make a case that he is the better of 'tenders in the battle of former teammates.

 Then came the second period, when the Flames got away from what's brought them to the Western Conference final.

 They eased up, stood still and backed off from their aggressive attack.

 They made too many defensive mistakes and the Sharks' speed and tenacity kept the Flames hemmed in their own zone.

 It meant a pair of goals for the deserving hosts and a blown two-goal lead much to the chagrin of the visitors.

 "When we got a lead, we sat back a little bit," said Flames assistant captain Craig Conroy.

 "And that's not our game."

 Never has been.

 And it nearly cost the Flames the opening game.

 Despite allowing goals by Mike Ricci and Todd Harvey, Kiprusoff was the star of the second period. He was outstanding, making 13 saves.

 It certainly could have been worse but Kiprusoff continued to be all-world in guarding the net.

 And he continued the thievery into the third period and overtime, although the Flames did turn their game around and eventually reclaimed the lead on Conroy's third-period tally, his second goal of the game.

 But with justice on the Sharks side -- at least in regulation time -- Korolyuk finally fluked a goal past Kiprusoff, making up for the handful of robberies made earlier by Kiprusoff on Koroyluk's chances.

 Yet despite letting down their guard throughout the contest, the Flames again rode resilience and Kiprusoff into a position to reel in the all-important first victory.

 They managed to escape the jaws of the Sharks until Steve Montador's OT winner won it for them.

 Indeed, the Sharks circled the Flames and revealed their weaknesses.

 They just didn't move in for the kill, which has been their M.O. in making them a conference finalist.

 Thank Kiprusoff. Thank resilience.

 Thank whomever and whatever.

 Just don't go thanking the Flames for the Game 1 victory.

 They didn't entirely deserve it.

 They have to sharper for Game 2.

 Because, certainly, the Sharks will be.


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