Could Evgeni Nabokov be the best goaltender in the NHL today? He leads the league in wins (46 out of 77 games played) and is tied for 3rd in Goals Against (2.14). Last night he knew what was at stake for San Jose after the Flames' 3-2 victory in Wednesday's opener. He accepted the challenge and responded with the type of performance that has led the Sharks to the Playoffs this year as the Pacific Division champions.
After the game, when asked, Nabokov said “We knew we couldn't lose going to Calgary, they were playing great hockey, and we just kept coming at them. It's a win, that's the most important thing. A shutout is icing on the cake. There's a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of fights ahead of us." He made one of the most incredible saves with 4:51 to play after a sharp Calgary pass left him out of position to stop Nolan's shot on a wide open net. Nabokov somehow leaned across the crease and blindly gloved the puck, leaving the former Sharks captain chewing on his mouthpiece in disbelief. "The last one was sort of lucky," Nabokov said. "I just tried to put my glove somewhere there, and hope he would hit me."
Kiprusoff was nearly as good as Nabokov in the rematch, stopping 41 out of 43 shots as the Flames struggled on the penalty-kill for 9:52 in the second period, in which San Jose out shot Calgary 27-3. Calgary’s lack of performance in the 2nd was partly caused by the 7 penalties in a row they brought upon themselves. 2 cross checking, 2 holding, Roughing, Hooking and Slashing … most of them “sloppy” penalties and these professionals should know better. San Jose again used its big advantages in speed and skill to keep the Flames on the defensive - or force them to commit penalties. After the game Calgary coach Mike Keenan said "I was very upset about the officiating, I'll share those thoughts with the league and with the supervisor of the officials. I can't comment on how it affected my players. We had a good first period, and then there was a total imbalance in the second."
This was a completely different game than the night before when Calgary won the opener despite being out shot 39 – 23 by San Jose and a Sharks home sellout crowd expecting big things from the NHL's second-best regular season team. It seems as if San Jose just needed to obtain their playoff bearings … if San Jose can continue to play the rough grinding hockey I watched last night I see them going deep into the playoffs. San Jose's rocky playoff start was disturbingly familiar to us fans, we have watched the talented Sharks crash out of the playoffs' second round in two straight springs. San Jose had a franchise record 108 points in the regular season, finishing 7 points behind Detroit after a 20-game streak without a regulation defeat from mid-February to early April. Regarding their first game Wednesday night Sharks LWer Ryane Clowe said "I thought we came out with the right intentions, but maybe we were kind of tight, and they were really hungry, we definitely have to be more hungry, more of that dog-with-a-bone mentality. Overall, they wanted it more.”
I must admit that the Sharks / Calgary match up this first round has the best showing so far. The physical play of both teams, the grit, the power, the unstoppable momentum from both teams is what this sport is all about – First round, Final round … this is NHL Playoff Hockey – No other sport compares to it!