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Flames reach Stanley Cup final

FLAMES 3, SHARKS 1: Calgary becomes the first home team to to win a game in the series.

BRANT JAMES
Published May 20, 2004

CALGARY - They call it The Red Mile, a nondescript section of 17th Avenue NW that stretches from the neighborhood surrounding the Saddledome to Calgary's gleaming downtown.

Since the Flames qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, the denizens of this hockey-mad prairie town have turned the route home into a slow-moving, horn-honking victory parade that grows with every win.

Every age, but mostly young, all bathed in red, all unabashedly giddy, smacking hands with fellow faith hanging over the wrought iron rails of the many bars and restaurants that front the street.

Al MacInnis and Mike Vernon and eventual Lightning coach Terry Crisp had hoisted the Stanley Cup so long ago, before many of these revelers had been born.

They wanted memories of their own. Here they come.

Craig Conroy had two assists and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff made big saves as the Flames registered the first and only win by the home team in the Western Conference final, eliminating the Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 at the Saddledome.

The Flames will meet the winner of the Eastern Conference final, either the Lightning or Flyers.

The first goal had been crucial to the Flames in the playoffs and to both teams in this series, with the eventual winner scoring it in each game.

Jarome Iginla, the postseason leader in goals and points, gave it to the Flames at with 1:08 left in the first, punishing the Sharks for the first penalty called in a tight-checking, free-flowing game.

Thirty-five seconds after Sharks center Curtis Brown was issued a double-minor for high sticking, Iginla strode forward onto a pass from Conroy and flicked a shot through defenseman Scott Hannan and past Evgeni Nabokov for a 1-0 lead.

Iginla's goal gave him 10 for the postseason and 17 points in 19 games and made the Flames 10-1 when scoring first.

The power-play goal was Calgary's fifth in its past 16 opportunities.

Calgary outshot the Sharks 11-6 in the period and had the better of the chances, nearly taking a 1-0 lead with 5:46 left in the period on a give-and-go between Chris Simon and Oleg Saprykin.

San Jose forced Kiprusoff to make the most difficult save of the period, however, when Wayne Primeau cut the crease and nearly jammed a pass from behind the net between the goaltender and the left pipe.

Iginla's line gave the Flames a 2-0 lead at 13:02 of the second, but the Hart Trophy candidate had nothing to do with it this time. Conroy set up Martin Gelinas' six goal of the playoffs when he snookered Marcel Goc on a faceoff just outside the zone, pushing the puck into the offensive zone and ahead to Gelinas, who skated in and beat Nabokov between his legs.

Although the Flames would hold a 24-12 at the end of the second period, the Sharks began to press the attack and skate free in the final 12 minutes. Kiprusoff was forced to make a close-in save when Brown freed the puck in front a scrum and skated alone in and Saprykin threw his stomach over another blast from the point that appeared to have possibilities.

San Jose drew within 2-1 at 16:14 when Alyn McCauley took a pass from former Lightning Nils Ekman, slinked through the Flames defense from the right and snapped in just his second goal of the playoffs.

A crowd humming with anticipation of a trip to the Cup final was deflated momentarily, until Calgary tested Nabokov twice with two strong minutes that ended the game. Might want to avoid 17th Avenue for a while.

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