In same boat

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:33 PM ET

 The NHL's third round is uncharted waters for the San Jose Sharks.

 And the Calgary Flames haven't dipped a toe in this particular pool since 1989.

  Much is similar between these Western Conference final foes. Aside from the Sharks earning a division crown and the No. 2 playoff seed, the differences are few and far between.

 "They're a team very similar to ours in style of play," said Flames blueliner Robyn Regehr. "They have a lot of speed and they have great goaltending and they've been a great defensive team all year. It'll be a good challenge for our team."

 "Two similar teams," agreed Flames veteran winger Dave Lowry. "Both are quick teams. Both are well-disciplined teams. And both teams have strong goaltending. So it's going to be a battle.

 "I think the big thing is we have to focus on making sure we're ready."

 What they'll need to be ready for is a patient series. The first team to blink might lose games -- and eventually the series -- simply because both the Flames and Sharks are so defensive-minded and are backstopped by top-notch goaltenders. Low-scoring games could, indeed, be in order with Evgeni Nabokov and Miikka Kiprusoff tending the twine.

 "Yeah ... 1-0 games," said Flames veteran Martin Gelinas. "It'll be tight.

 "They're one of the best defensive teams. We're going to have to create our opportunities. We'll have to battle."

 At the other end, the battle is to thwart the triumvirate of Patrick Marleau, Vincent Damphousse and Niko Dimitrakos. The veteran Damphousse, a 1993 Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens, leads the Sharks with 11 points. Dimitrakos leads all rookies with nine points, including eight assists. And Marleau is tied with Flames captain Jarome Iginla for goals (7) in these playoffs and, like Iginla, is among the most heralded young captains in the league.

 "He's a top draft pick and a great talent," said Flames GM/head coach Darryl Sutter of his former budding star. "He has the opportunity to be a top player in the National Hockey League."

 Fellow youngster Jonathan Cheechoo, with eight playoff points so far, and former Calgary Hitmen rearguard Brad Stuart, with five points, are also contributing offensively.

 However, after combining for 139 points in the regular season, Nils Ekman, Alyn McCauley and Alexander Korolyuk have just four points between them in the post-season. Sniper Marco Sturm remains sidelined with a broken ankle.

 Meanwhile, Mike Ricci, a Cup champ with the '96 Colorado Avalanche, is a clutch playoff performer, as is former Buffalo Sabres checker Curtis Brown.

 "That team's got skill," Conroy said. "They've got that one line that's going great. We've got to shut it down.

 "And all those other guys are working hard. So they've got four lines that can play and we've got four lines that can play."

 The Sharks also have four defencemen who can play. Stuart helps anchor a solid foursome that boasts Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren and veteran Mike Rathje. Just like the Flames, the blueline corps is young and improving.

 And, just like the Flames, the Sharks have ousted a Cup favourite along the way.


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