Archive for Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Canada rooting for Flames

Calgary hopes to end Stanley Cup drought

May 19, 2004

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— Canada is more than ready to celebrate its first Stanley Cup finalist in a decade. Now, it's up to the Calgary Flames to do something right at home.

Calgary plays host to the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals tonight with a 3-2 series lead and a wealth of momentum. The Flames have lost both of the series' previous games at the Saddledome, but their eight playoff road victories are two short of the NHL record.

Still, the Flames would prefer to please their fans.

"We know how to win at home, but we're playing a very good team," said captain Jarome Iginla, the leading scorer in the playoffs with 16 points. "We've got to find a way to win a tight game, because that's what it's going to be. We love it at home. We'd love to go home and play our best game of the playoffs in front of them."

Flames fans began the season without much reason to suspect it would be any better than the previous 14, which all ended without a title. Instead, a new coach, a young lineup and a rising star in net embarked on a winning season -- and after one of the best road playoff runs in NHL history, they're a win away from the Stanley Cup finals.

And all of Canada seems thrilled by the possibility of having a native team in the final round for the first time since Vancouver made it in 1994. Canada's six teams haven't won a championship since Montreal's last Stanley Cup in 1993, and many fans and media take it personally.

"This is huge for people in Canada," said defenseman Andrew Ference, who sports a tattoo of the Canadian flag on his shoulder. "Our players come from lots of different countries, but once you put on a Canadian team's uniform, everybody supports you -- especially in the playoffs. Even (Edmonton) Oilers fans are behind us right now."

Still, Calgary is just 3-5 at home in the playoffs -- and San Jose has won five of its last six on the road.

"The red house in Calgary, it's controlled chaos," Flames forward Ville Nieminen said. "If you want to move on in the series, you have to win everywhere. We just haven't had Lady Fortune on our side at home."

It's impossible to go 100 yards in greater Calgary without a reminder of the Flames' playoff run, while downtown San Jose shows almost no signs of appreciation for the Sharks' best season in franchise history. Yet on home ice, the Sharks have frozen up -- particularly in dismal performances in the last two games.

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