Thornton, Sharks stun Flames in Game 4

Thornton, Sharks stun Flames in Game 4:

Joe Thornton scored the winning goal on a deflection with eight seconds remaining as the San Jose Sharks rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarter-final series on Tuesday night.

You really didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?

Well, some of you did. And some of you have been alternately tossing yourselves off roofs or hyperventilating into paper bags.

Of course, it’s the pundit’s job to encourage this kind of over-hyper-analysis — whether it’s blogs, newspapers or CBC, they have time to fill, and so of course they want to fill it with Serious Stuff.

In reality, though, it still takes four games to win or lose a series. And that’s really the core of the San Jose/Calgary series: two really good, well-matched up, exceptionally well-coached teams in a seven game chess match. I got a number of emails from people after game 1 freaking, whe in reality, all that really mattered was a split in San Jose. And ditto game 3, when in fact until a team gets a third win or has a two win lead, it’s just part of the process.

And now it’s best of 3, with two games in San Jose. San Jose had the “first game at home” jitters in game one and while really outplaying the Flames after the first 7 minutes, still lost. The Flames did the same thing in game 3, first time at home in a couple of weeks — but found a way to get desperate enough to take the game back.

And now, four games later, we’ve decided nothing. San Jose “should” still win this series — but “should” and “will” are really different things. It’s very evenly matched. And the Sharks proved they could respond to the loss in game 3, and now Calgary has to do the same after having a lead (despite being more or less blown out of the building) late, only to lose with 8 seconds left. Major body and morale blow.

But both of these teams are proving to be master counter-punchers. Game 5 should be fun. Easy? nope. But fun.

Before the series, I said the Flames couldn’t beat San Jose, but Iginla and Kiprusoff could. That is really what’s going on. The series is tied because of three key factors:

1) Kiprusoff is playing exceptionally well, almost unbeatable.

2) the Flames forecheck is making the Sharks crazy and generating some nasty turnovers, and…

3) the sharks Defense (especially McLaren and Campbell) are struggling under that pressure, and so the sharks are losing pucks in situations that the Flames capitalize on for key goals, and fighting to get offensive pushes going. McLaren just doesn’t look healthy to me, and Campbell’s aggressiveness is being turned back at him by a well-coached Flames team.

Get away from the partisanship of being a Sharks fan or a Flames fan, and this is one hell of a great series full of great, gutty hockey.

A few other thoughts about the series:

any remaining doubters about Marleau, or about Marleau as captain, or about Marleau as a shark, can shut up now. marleau has emerged as a great captain, just not a noisy one. And for those of you don’t believe captains can be quiet, ask Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman. And no, Patty’s not to either of those guy’s level yet, but he’s taking a huge step forward this series.

People who’ve been madly cheering Campbell should slow down and realize that a Dman that plays that aggressive is going to get burnt at times — and right now, he is. As Sandis Ozolinsh in his prime used to prove, a guy like that will generate lots of scoring chances; we just don’t know for which team. I’m not criticizing Campbell here — but the people who want to think you can have a player like that without the negatives his game style comes with. Personally, I’ll take my chances with him any time.

I still haven’t seen much out of Michalek. I saw more in game 4 than the previous three, but he’s still not holding his own. Cheechoo and Thornton really stepped up in game 4, especially late.

And so to game 5. And it’s too close to call — and I like it that way. (for now)