Even in today's era of obstruction-free skating, three-goal comebacks and special teams emphasis, the first 25 minutes of Wednesday's Anaheim-Calgary Game 7 played out like overtime hockey.
You just had a feeling the first goal would do it.
Nobody left the ice after Teemu Selanne scored for Anaheim at 5:12 of the second period, a near carbon-copy of his tying goal in Game 6. There were no handshakes. No mass exodus of fans to Calgary's Red Mile.
But it was over.
The Calgary faithful went from energized to desperate to just plain frustrated. A second-period Flames power-play drew boos from the capacity crowd at the Saddledome. Calgary went more than 13 minutes without a shot, and when they got pucks on Anaheim goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, they were rarely followed by better scoring chances.
After Ruslan Salei scored his first goal of the playoffs nearly 15 minutes later, the Flames still couldn't transition from hesitation to desperation. The Mighty Ducks outshot Calgary 11-9 in the final period, and if you didn't know better, the visitors looked like the team on a life-or-death quest for a goal.
The Flames were flat. They played without confidence. Captain Jarome Iginla said as much after the game.
But Anaheim deserved a lot of credit. The Ducks played a nearly flawless defensive series – from designated Iginla-hunter Samuel Pahlsson up front to veteran Scott Niedermayer on the blueline to the stellar play of Bryzgalov, a rookie goalie.
It looked like a cash dump, and fans wanted to know why Burke was selling off the season a little more than a month in. Burke himself acknowledged that finances played a huge role in the deal.
But he was also banking on two outcomes, and his savvy paid a handsome return. Beauchemin, after improving his conditioning, become a solid top-pairing defenseman. And rookies Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry each blossomed when given more responsibility.
Anaheim's comeback from a 3-2 series deficit completed a most improbable round of quarterfinal games in the Western Conference. While the top four teams in the East all held serve, out West it was seeds five through eight advancing.
Somewhere, a doomsday theorist is pointing to a possible Anaheim-San Jose Western Conference final as yet another sign of the apocalypse.
THIRD STAR OF THE DAY
Ilya Bryzgalov was far from spectacular Wednesday. It just wasn't required of him. Even when Calgary pulled goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for an extra skater in the final minutes, the Flames couldn't put together a sustained attack. Bryzgalov faced the most pressure in the first period and by turning aside 10 shots without displaying even a hint of Game 7 jitters, he set the stage for Anaheim's win.
SECOND STAR OF THE DAY
Defense was the story for Anaheim Wednesday, and nobody was out there longer than defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who played just under 30 minutes in Game 7, two nights after standing up to Calgary captain Jarome Iginla in a first-period fight in Game 6. Beauchemin logged 4:36 in short-handed ice time as Anaheim diffused four Calgary power plays without so much as a whisper of a scoring chance materializing.
FIRST STAR OF THE DAY
Teemu Selanne has had his share of playoff struggles over the years. He's been to the second round only three times and entering play this season had only seven goals in his last 32 postseason games. Wednesday he scored his third goal of this series, and his game-winner extended his point streak to six games.
There was a time this season, before Alexander Ovechkin turned the jets on, that you could build a solid case for Dion Phaneuf as this year's Calder Trophy winner. He wasn't even the best rookie in this series. Not even close. Phaneuf never emerged as a physical presence against Anaheim, he took personal responsibility for allowing the winning goal in Game 2 and he finished a series-worst minus-8. Wednesday was another tough night as he was on the ice for all three Mighty Ducks goals.
Even for the offensively challenged Flames, a one-goal deficit was nothing to cower from. After all, Calgary hadn't been shut out at home since October. But the Flames needed to play error-free hockey the rest of the way and they didn't do that. Turnovers ruled the day, none more costly than the one defenseman Roman Hamrlik served up on an attempted clearing pass late in the second period. Hamrlik put the puck right on the stick of Vitali Vishnevski, who set up Salei for Anaheim's second goal.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR THURSDAY
No games Thursday as remaining teams in both conferences prepare for the semifinals. Curiously, Anaheim gets only one day off after a road Game 7 to prepare for its series-opener against Colorado. Buffalo and Ottawa are also in action Friday.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT Watch
We'll have to wait for our first overtime Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. This game had all the makings of a possible OT game, but Anaheim dominated all facets to send Calgary packing.