Curse is no more

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET


 VANCOUVER -- The Cup Curse is finally dead.

 The Calgary Flames avenged 15 years of playoff futility last night with a gutsy 3-2 overtime win that exorcised Game 7 Ghosts past like Esa Tikkanen, Pavel Bure and Ray Whitney.

 The name bumping all those from Flames fans minds is Martin Gelinas who played the hero by knocking in a Jarome Iginla rebound 1:25 into the extra frame to send Calgary into the second round for the first time since wining the Cup in 1989.

 And while Gelinas was the one mobbed by his teammates, the real heroes on the night were -- as always -- Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.

 "That's our recipe for success -- hard work and we rely on those two a little heavier," said battle-scarred Rhett Warrener amidst a roomful of jubilant teammates and owners.

 Heck, even steely nerved Kiprusoff managed a smile.

 "He did? Good," laughed Craig Conroy. "I didn't even see it. I'll bet he's already thinking about Detroit."

 So too are Flames fans, who dared to dream of the Motor City late in the contest when Kipper was performing his usual magic, turning aside a steady barrage of quality Canucks chances.

 It wasn't until there was 5.7 seconds left, when Matt Cooke banged in his second rebound goal to tie the game 2-2, that the Curse of the Cup once again crept back into the picture.

 However, it was just that type of adversity the club had bounced back all year long from, buoying a somber mood during the intermission.

 "We were at an all-time low when we got into the room -- not much was said," said Conroy.

 "The only saving grace was that we had a powerplay coming up. Darryl reminded us how we wanted a chance to have it come down to one goal against these guys and we went out and did it. Suddenly we were on an all-time high."

 Mirroring his heroics in the Olympic gold medal game, Iginla came through again for his team, scoring the first two goals and setting up the game winner with a point blank shot Alex Auld somehow stopped.

 Head coach Darryl Sutter gushed over the performance of his No. 1 player.

 "In order for our team to grow, that was what was most important," Sutter said.

 "You look at all the young captains in the NHL, find me a better one."

 For a spell it appeared he may be the goat, having sailed a backhand wide of the open net before Markus Naslund rushed the puck back up the ice and set up Cooke's heartbreaker.

 "That hurt," said Iginla, unable to wipe the trademark grin off his face despite talk of his gaffe.

 "To think we were one goal away from getting through and then missing that empty-netter... But we fought back as we always do and now we're on to Round 2."

 Handed the green helmet for making 26 often heroic saves, Kiprusoff shrugged off the locker room pandemonium and the late goal as usual.

 "I guess I should wear the hat eh?" said the quiet Finnish star of the series.

 "This feels pretty good."

 It's been 15 years since the Flames won its only Stanley Cup, evidently angering the hockey gods by becoming the only team in NHL lore to claim Lord Stanley's chalice in the sacred confines of hockey's church, the Montreal Forum. They've been stymied ever since, losing all seven first-round matchups before last night, often in heartbreaking fashion.

 No more.

 Shocking the division champs with a physical brand of hockey they only rarely abandoned despite increased injuries and fatigue, the Flames used their two biggest weapons to win the club's biggest game in more than a decade.

 "It's been a long time and Calgary is such a great hockey city," said Iginla.

 "They deserve this."


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