SAN JOSE — One last Shark attack did in the Calgary Flames.
Having pushed their NHL playoff series to the limit, the Flames'
Stanley Cup playoff hopes were dashed in resounding fashion — a 5-3 loss last night in San Jose.
San Jose claimed the best-of-seven series four games to three and advances to face the Dallas Stars in the second round.
For the third straight year, the Flames are out in the first round.
The good news was that the Flames showed enough character to take the series against a favoured team to the limit, especially when they trailed after five games.
The bad news is they were thrashed when it mattered most, shredded by a four-goal Sharks outburst in the second period that came after the visitors were holding a lead despite the edge in play.
From the drop of the puck San Jose was nothing like the same team we
saw Sunday night in Calgary when the series was pushed to the limit by a complete Flames effort and 2-0 win.
Instead of feeling the pressure of being a favoured team at home and the frenzied 17,496 on-hand for the first ever seventh game played at the HP Pavilion, the Sharks jumped out of the blocks full-force, winning all the battles and carrying the play.
The sustained pressure finally paid off with a powerplay goal nearly
11 minutes into the tilt.
With Joe Thornton parked alone on the far side of the net, Jonathan Cheechoo and Jeremy Roenick played give-and-go before giving the cross-ice feed.
Thornton had all the time to pick his spot and ripped a wrist shot that Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff could only get a piece of with his trapper before it hit the twine.
It's Thornton's second goal of the series.
But the Calgary powerplay struck right back just a couple of minutes later, with Jarome Iginla doing the honours.
As Adrian Aucoin sent a long wrister from the point, Iginla went to the front of the net and bunted the waist-high shot out of the air past Evgeni Nabokov for his fourth goal of the post-season and sent the clubs to the intermission even despite the one-sided first period.
The Flames received a further boost just a few minutes into the middle frame when Owen Nolan gave them the lead.
After Cory Sarich forced the turnover, Craig Conroy and Kristian Huselius made a couple of quick passes that sprung the former Sharks captain on a breakaway.
Nolan's shot was stopped but the rebound bounced off his shin and into the cage.
However, the Sharks evened it before the midway point on a goal Kiprusoff would certainly like back and then took the lead for good before the midway point thanks to more Roenick.
First, Roenick was the beneficiary of a turnover that gave him the puck at the top of the circle and his weak shot squeaked through the legs of the screened netminder.
Then Roenick restored the hosts' lead with a powerplay goal of his own, grabbing his own rebound after a long shot was blocked and roofing it.
Not a bad way to return to the lineup after being scratched last outing.
Then with 5:59 remaining in the middle period, Joe Pavelski's rebound goal made it a 4-2 game and spelled the night for Kiprusoff and brought Curtis Joseph between the pipes.
Kiprusoff faced 30 shots before receiving the hook.
Joseph fared no better, beat by Devin Setoguchi less than a minute later.
Wayne Primeau made it a two-goal game five minutes into the third period when David Moss's pass from behind the net bounced off his body and into the net, but that was as close as the Flames could get despite a final-frame push.
The Flames will gather again in the next day or two to empty out their lockers and begin the goodbyes.
The least likely player to be back is left winger Kristian Huselius, a pending unrestricted free agent whose salary expectations will likely be out of reach for a Flames team that will be pressing the salary cap and has been in and out of the coach's dog house for the last couple of months.
But the potential ex-Flames doesn't end there.
Centre Daymond Langkow has reportedly re-signed a four-year, US$20-million contract, which may push Craig Conroy out of the picture for good — although the veteran fan favourite would likely be willing to remain even at a greatly reduced salary.
Gritty centre Stephane Yelle and rugged right winger Owen Nolan are also pending UFAs.
So are defencemen Jim Vandermeer and David Hale and enforcer Eric Godard.
Left winger Eric Nystrom, the club's first-round draft choice from
2002 who has finally proven to be a capable NHL regular, is also a potential UFA, having played fewer than 80 NHL games in his first three pro seasons.
Back-up goaltender Curtis Joseph is also a pending unrestricted free agent, as is Curtis McElhinney.