CALGARY, Alberta (AP)—If the San Jose Sharks can just figure out how to overcome the home-ice disadvantage in the Western Conference finals, Mike Rathje believes they’re ready to put this series away.
Rathje’s first goal of the playoffs started San Jose’s four-goal second period and Evgeni Nabokov made 27 saves in the Sharks’ 4-2 victory over the Flames in Game 4 Sunday, evening the series at two games apiece.
The road team has won all four games in the conference finals, which is bad news for the Sharks: They’ll be back home for Game 5 on Monday night in the Shark Tank, where San Jose has lost three straight playoff games overall.
But after an impressive effort from nearly all of the Sharks, particularly on defense, momentum actually might mean something in this topsy-turvy series.
“We’re going to go home, get some rest and do exactly the same things we did here,” Rathje said after the Sharks wrapped up their second straight win in front of the Flames’ intimidating Saddledome crowd. “We know how to win at home—really.”
Rathje, still sporting a nasty black eye from his fight with Chris Simon in Game 3, scored on a long slap shot and later added an assist as San Jose jumped all over Calgary in a phenomenal second-period effort. Rathje normally isn’t an offensive catalyst, but the defenseman’s injury seemed to provide just the motivation he needed.
“This is the playoffs, and that kind of (goonery), it doesn’t work,” Rathje said. “We’ve had adversity all year, and we’ve kept going. That’s not going to stop us.”
Game 6 is back in Calgary on Wednesday night.
Nabokov allowed just two goals in Calgary after yielding eight in the first two games of San Jose’s first trip to the conference finals. He was nearly perfect in Game 4, allowing only a strange deflection goal and Simon’s score during a two-man advantage with 39.7 seconds left.
“We can say right now that we do have momentum, but we all know how that can change,” Nabokov said. “If you’re not prepared, if you’re not working hard for even two minutes, it’s gone.”
Jarome Iginla scored early for the Flames, who lost their composure and defensive focus in the second period. Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames’ playoff savior in the early rounds and in a 49-save performance in Game 1, made just 12 saves and allowed two terrible goals before giving way to Roman Turek in the third period.
But the Flames have been here before: Their previous two playoff series against Vancouver and Detroit also were tied heading into Game 5, and the young team handled the pressure splendidly.
“This one is behind us,” Iginla said. “It’s a best-of-three series now, and we’ve won both of our best-of-threes this season. We’ve always found a way to get out of this, and we’ll try to do it again.”
Calgary returned home four days ago with a two-game lead and an excellent shot at the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 15 years. But the Sharks gutted out a 3-0 victory in Game 3—and just as San Jose came unraveled in Game 2, the Flames lost it in Game 4.
The Sharks capitalized on a four-on-two rush for their first goal early in the second period. Kiprusoff fanned on Rathje’s long slap shot, the first of several misplays by the Sharks’ former backup goalie.
Calgary scored midway through the second period when Iginla’s pass to the net was deflected by a San Jose defenseman between Nabokov’s legs—but instead of deflating, the Sharks answered with two goals in the next 2:08.
Kiprusoff set up Cheechoo’s goal by lingering behind his net to play the puck and then inexplicably skating the wrong way back around. Cheechoo stole the puck and tucked it home before Kiprusoff got in position.
And 89 seconds later, Damphousse scored his seventh goal of the postseason on an exceptional pass. Marleau found Damphousse behind him while falling to the ice, making the pass with the shaft of his stick.
Marleau ended his seven-game goal-scoring drought late in the period, knocking home another pass in the slot. Cheers from the handful of Sharks fans at the sold-out Saddledome could be heard clearly above the silence of the 19,000-plus red-clad faithful.
“The good news,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said, “is we get to playagain right away.”
Calgary’s power play is 1-for-16 in the conference finals after failing to score in the final three games of the second round against Detroit. … With Nils Ekman back in the lineup after a one-game absence, the Sharks scratched rookie RW Niko Dimitrakos, who spent most of the season on their top line. … The Flames scratched tough guy Krzysztof Oliwa and activated former Sharks LWDave Lowry, who appeared in just two previous playoff games.
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