Fans left HP Pavilion Wednesday night in disbelief and anger. With such high expectations for the San Jose Sharks, severe criticism of everything from Joe Thornton's ineffectiveness to the soft goals Nabokov let in could be overheard from every conversation as people filed toward the parking lots.
It didn't look like San Jose came to play.
Blame whomever you want for San Jose's loss to the Calgary Flames, but the reason why they lost is very simple: Calgary outplayed, out-hit, and out-skated San Jose for 60-minutes of hockey.
Three keys to Calgary's success mentioned in my previous article spelled victory for Wednesday's game. Calgary setting their own pace of the game early, Phaneuf's physicality, and Kiprusoff's dominance earned the Flames the early lead in this best-of-seven series.
After the first five minutes of the first period passed, there were still many seats left unfilled at HP Pavilion. But, by that time Calgary already mounted a 2-0 lead over the Sharks.
Although the Sharks answered back a few minutes later, the fans seemed removed from the game, and Nabokov looked shaken from his normal rhythm. On shots where he would normally stand resilient, he seemed to sprawl more in the butterfly position. A final minute charge and Clowe's second goal of the night brought the game back within reach for San Jose.
With Nabokov pulled, a six-on-five effort consisted of more than five shots on goal in the last 30 seconds of the game. Ultimately, Kiprusoff and Calgary prevailed by a score of 3-2.
The word I kept thinking to myself as I watched the game at HP Pavilion, was "lackluster." Passes weren't crisp, shots were rushed, and it seemed that every loose puck was corralled by Calgary.
One bright spot was the utilization of the defense in the offensive zone. Many shots were taken from the point, but with no screen of Kiprusoff, he easily made the glove save. The Sharks came out of the gate flat-footed and it doomed them from the opening drop of the puck.
Phaneuf began the night getting under the skin of the San Jose forwards. He opened the door for San Jose to respond and spark a comeback, but San Jose's efforts were snuffed every time by Kipprusoff's goaltending.
Ryan Clowe, Captain Patrick Marleau, and defenseman Douglas Murray led tonight's charge for San Jose. Clowe had the Sharks' lone two goals, Marleau assisted on the first goal, and Murray was a +2 on the night.
Murray's most noticeable contribution was his ability to shut down Jarome Iginla with his line mate Brian Campbell. San Jose made it clear they were going to look to shut down Iginla by shading him on every possession. When a team focuses on the superstar, it requires the team's secondary players to step up.
Stephane Yelle did just that. He had two goals for the Calgary Flames. Iginla assisted on two goals, including the game winner.
The way the San Jose Sharks respond to the Calgary Flames' physicality and tempo in Thursday's game will decide the direction the rest of the series will go in as it heads to Calgary.
They need to skate hard, fire passes, and crash the net. Thursday's contest will define the San Jose Sharks as a team and as a Cup contender. If they can learn from the mistakes that were made in game one and improve, they will be able to take the series in five games.
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