Calgary Flames playoff hopes nearly extinguished, 0-1-2 road trip in California concludes with lifeless performance in San Jose

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Thursday, March 24, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

San Jose Sharks Devin Setoguchi major collision Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff

San Jose Sharks center Torrey Mitchell player of the game Calgary Flames

San Jose Sharks center Torrey Mitchell goal Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff

The Calgary Flames came into Wednesday night’s contest proclaiming the need for a Game 7 playoff effort to keep their playoff hopes alive. What they offered on the ice was anything but. What was expected to be a tight, defensive affair gave way to a 6-goal first period, and an eventual 6-3 win by the San Jose Sharks. Second, third and fourth efforts regularly seen in playoff elimination games were not there for Calgary. The tough, grueling attrition style of play in front of their own net was also gone. There was no urgency from the Flames, and only hints of the playoff rivalry that gripped both cities in 2004 and 2008. The Sharks barely slowed down to give them any pause.

In the tight Western Conference playoff picture where even winning games is not enough, Calgary has been in a freefall. Having lost 3 of 4 previously, Hockey Night in Canada described the Flames 3-game California road trip as “their season”. Struggling with an enormous crush of injuries, 318 man games lost prior to Wednesday night, Calgary had to battle 3 hardened Pacific Division opponents without David Moss, Freddy Modin, Brendan Morrison and Daymond Langkow among others. Niklas Hagman was injured during the second stop in LA. The Flames battled back from a 3-0 deficit in Anaheim with 4 goals, but Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry scored to give Anaheim a 5-4 OT win. In Los Angeles one night later, Olli Jokinen forced overtime with his 16th goal of the season, but Jarret Stoll and Anze Kopitar put the Flames away with a 2-1 shootout win.

Then came San Jose on Wednesday, and with the Flames season on the line many expected a whithering assault. Instead there was no intensity on the ice, no urgency by Calgary. no pushing hard for the win. Instead it looked like they were playing out the string. With several missteps and a chance to gain momentum in the second period, the Flames did not take it. The Sharks kept getting the puck deep, smartly setting up crisp line changes, and punishing Calgary for 200 feet as they tried to carry the puck up ice.

Fatigue may have been a factor, and the weather in California of late has been one of steady rain, but the internal and external pressure a Canadian team faces down the stretch also takes a toll. Hockey dominates the conversation in Canada in March and April. For a team battling for one of the final playoff positions, that focus and pressure increases significantly. Occasionally Canadian teams, even traditionally hard working ones like the Flames, wilt under that pressure.

The Sharks for their part were trying to keep things on the ice “business as usual”, although Wednesday saw the return of head coach Todd McLellan, and two thirds of their second line in Logan Couture and Dany Heatley. McLellan returned after missing a game to attend the funeral of a family member in Canada. Heatley returned after serving a 2-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Steve Ott, and Logan Couture did not miss a game after he lost an edge and slammed hard into the end boards against Calgary. The fact that Couture was not more severely injured was a huge bullet dodged for the Sharks, and the second in as many games. Dan Boyle had a similar awkward fall, but he was able to play without missing a game as well. Couture’s development into what should be a Calder finalist this season has added that much depth up front for the Sharks. It allowed versatile Joe Pavelski to drop down to the third line and act as a catalyst for Torrey Mitchell and Kyle Wellwood.

On Wednesday night the fireworks started early. On a line change, Joe Thornton held on to the puck at the blueline and waited for more of his teammates to get on the ice and build up steam. As he was challenged, he dumped the puck into the opposite corner and ducked a check. Torrey Mitchell beat defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to the puck along the halfwall, and after dumping the puck down low, Mitchell beat Bouwmeester again off the wall and to the net. Jamal Mayers drove wide drawing two players to him, then he spun and fired a hard shot towards the net. Mitchell deflected it by Miikka Kiprusoff for the first goal of the game.

San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano were both mentioned as underrated defenseman who do not get enough media attention prior to the game. On Wednesday night this blog tried to isolate each player during the game to focus on their contributions. Giordano made his first impact play of the game, and the end result was a game tying goal for Calgary. In a play for a loose puck behind his own net, Giordano hammered Ryan Clowe up against the boards. Clowe lost his footing, making the impact that much harder. Responding to the hit, Heatley followed up on Giordano from behind and earned 2 minutes for boarding. After a strong first PK shift by Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, the Flames tied the game at 1-1 on a goal by captain Jarome Iginla. Olli Jokinen’s pass deflected off the skate of Logan Couture, and off the right leg pad of Niemi, directly to Iginla. Jarome buried his 475th career NHL goal up high.

Just over two minutes later, the back and forth nature of the game would continue. Rookie center Andrew Desjardins, only the second player in NHL history to wear #69 and a founding member of the Worcester Sharks ‘Crazed Rats’ line, carried the puck up the left side. Again, Jamal Mayers drove the front of the net and drew 2 players to him. Desjardins crisscrossed at the blueline, stepped around to snap a high inside out slapshot, recording about as pretty a rookie goal as you are going to score in this league. Desjardins tried to act like he had been there before, and not celebrate too much on the ice. Once he got to the bench he was smiling and pantoming a replay for his linemates.

Cory Sarich scored with a Tim Jackman screen in front to tie the game at 2-2, but from then on it was all San Jose. Patrick Marleau scored his 30th goal of the season, 350th of his career, by exploding around defenseman Jay Bouwmeester on the left side. Marleau got a step on Bouwmeester, then protected the puck until he unloaded a quick backhand shot. This is the third straight season Marleau has reached 30 goals, and the 5th time in his 13 year career.

Marleau was not finished. Calgary took a pair of late first period penalties that would come back to haunt them on the scoreboard, and put them behind the 8-ball to start the second. Marleau scored his 31st goal of the season on the power play assisted by Setoguchi and Pavelski, with a hat tip to Joe Thornton. In traffic, Thornton fired a short pass to Pavelski, who while falling got a shot towards the front of the net. The puck bounced off Setoguchi, and he responded trying to stuff it past Kiprusoff. Marleau pinched down from the left point to net front, and he buried the open rebound.

In the second period the Calgary Flames had an opportunity to gain momentum, but they could not take advantage of it. Antti Niemi was strong early, blocking an intial shot by Rene Bourque, then smothering a Matt Stajan shot up high. The Sharks responded to that push with a turnover, an offsides, another turnover, and another offsides, but the Flames could do nothing with that. Olli Jokinen was hammered by a clean Douglas Murray check in the neutral zone. A subsequent 3-on-1 rush was turned into a 3-on-2 rush with a hard skating Bouwmeester getting back into the play, but Miikka Kiprusoff turned in the save of the game on Devin Setoguchi. Thornton saucered a pass that landed directly on Setoguchi’s stick. As he has done multiple times in recent games, Setoguchi tried to come in hard behind the deflection attempt. Kiprusoff deflected the puck and Setoguchi wide of the net. It was the first of two major Setoguchi vs. Kiprusoff pileups on the night.

The momentum had clearly swung back to San Jose’s favor when Rene Bourque finally punched through Antti Niemi. A backhand wraparound shot deflected off a stick and over Niemi to bring the game to 4-3. The crowd settled down after repeatedly getting out of their seats on recurring end-to-end San Jose rushes. They were settling in for the next Calgary push which never came. Joe Pavelski was 15-2 in faceoffs after 2 periods, and in an intermission interview he said he would have been 16-1 if not for the scorekeeper. One of those clean faceoff wins resulted in the Sharks 5th goal. Pavelski fired 2 shots on goal, Mitchell and Wellwood both drove the net and were there for the rebound. Mitchell chipped a backhand high for his second goal of the game.

The third period started with another massive Setoguchi collision into Kiprusoff. Setoguchi went hard around the defense, but was knocked off balance and he slammed hard into the Flames goaltender. Seto slid another 7 feet past the crease, Kiprusoff took the net off its moorings and came to rest near the end boards. Flames fans in attendance, of which there were many, held their breath until he got back to his feet. Kiprusoff adjusted his helmet, did not complain to the ref, and took his spot back in front of the net.

The incident clearly was not over. On the next shift, a headhunting Cory Sarich took an unsuccessful shot at Ryan Clowe high in the zone, then he tracked back and upended Couture along the wall in the corner. Clowe made a b-line for Sarich and both dropped the gloves. Sarich is listed at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, but he was in over his head. He looked competitive in the fight until right hand stopped him in his tracks. From then on it was survival, and not get hit mode for the visor-wearing Sarich. If you are going to cheap shot an opposing team’s players, hockey fighting etiquette demands you take your helmet off before fighting if you are wearing a visor. Sarich did not. Clowe fought through Sarich’s attempts to lock him up, but in tight he had to throw short hammerfists and uppercuts to get around the visor. Eventually he let loose with long right hands, some of which bounced off the helmet, some off the visor, some of the chin of Sarich, and some off the shoulder pads. Part of Clowe’s reaction to Sarich was for the hit on Couture, part had to be a belated response to Cory Sarich’s elbow to the head of Patrick Marleau in Game 3 of the 2008 WCQF. A hit where Sarich was not penalized, Clowe was for retaliation, and the Flames earned a PP goal.

Sarich was not through on Wednesday night. He tried to catch Patrick Marleau playing the puck at the neutral zone. Sarich slammed hard into Marleau, but he hit a brick wall and was flung back on the ice. Marleau bounced off him, and was able to get the puck deep in the Calgary zone. It would happen over, and over, and over again in the third period. The Sharks would get the puck deep, and force the Flames to work hard to get it out of their own zone. In their best scoring chance of the period, a prone Niemi got his glove up on a heavy slapshot by Robyn Regher.

A few minutes later, Logan Couture broke in on a 2-on-1 rush with Dany Heatley. While he looked right to fake the pass, Couture turned and ripped a shot past Kiprusoff. New Shark beats old Shark. The goal was Couture’s 28th of the season, a gift for the Sharks who only days earlier were contemplating what adjustments they might have to make if he was seriously injured. Twice Couture grimmaced after collisions on the ice, but for the most part he skated as if there wasn’t an issue.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s biggest impact on the game may have come in the third period. Repeatedly he anticipated Flames passes, and turned the puck up ice on transition or dumped the puck out of danger into the neutral zone. While you can talk about a burst of speed on offense for Dan Boyle or an Ian White, Vlasic uses that burst of speed to close down an angle on a rush, or to get over and cover a forward on the other side of the crease. Several times in the third, Vlasic barked at his defensive partner or at forwards on the ice, letting them know they had to make a quick play on the puck. Vlasic finished with 19:23 of ice time, +2, and 1 blocked shot. His counterpart on the other side of the ice, Mark Giorando, finished with 23:54 of ice time, -1, 2 blocked shots. Giorando is a little more aggressive on the offensive side of the ice, but using anticipation and an intelligent game in the defensive zone is his strongest asset. In the shift before Mitchell’s second period goal, Giorando and Heatley tried to get in each other’s heads skating slowly around the goal crease. Neither backed down, instead skating slowly pressing against each other. The referee had to come over and wedge them apart.

A photo gallery from the game is available here.

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