Calgary defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 Wednesday night to win the best-of-seven NHL Western Conference finals, four games to two. The victory sent legions of red-shirted Flames fans parading into the streets of the Alberta city.
Calgary is the first Canadian team to reach the Stanley Cup finals since the 1994 Vancouver Canucks.
"It's awesome," Flames captain Jarome Iginla told Hockey Night in Canada. "It's such a thrill.
Calgary's Martin Gelinas, middle, celebrates his game-winner on Wednesday. (CP Photo/Ryan Remiorz)
"The guys have worked so hard. It feels awesome to keep going."
- RELATED: Thousands in Calgary celebrate Flames win John Spittal reports for CBC Radio on the celebrations Calgary-San Jose series page
- NHL Playoffs 2004
The Flames await the winner of the Eastern final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers. Tampa Bay leads the series 3-2 with Game 6 going Thursday in Philadelphia.
Iginla, Martin Gelinas and Robyn Regehr, with an empty-netter, scored for the Flames. Craig Conroy had two assists, while goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff finished with 18 saves.
Alyn McCauley scored the lone goal for the Sharks.
In a strange playoff series where home-ice advantage didn't seem to matter, Calgary finally got a victory at home.
Calgary jumped out a 2-0 series lead with a pair of wins in San Jose, but the Sharks fought back to knot it 2-2 with wins in Games 3 and 4 on the road, outscoring the Flames by a combined 7-2 score.
After an impressive performance in Game 5 to regain the edge in the series, the Flames tightened up their game at home to advance to their first Cup finals since they defeated Montreal in 1989.
Calgary quickly established its trademark, fast-paced and hard-hitting game in the first period of Game 6, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically lethargic San Jose squad.
The Flames fed off the raucous fans at the Pengrowth Saddledome – most adorned in red jerseys and hard hats – and outskated, outplayed and outshot the Sharks in the opening frame.
With their first goal, the Flames accomplished two things they hadn't been able to do previously this post-season – score first on home ice and capitalize on their pitiful power play.
Coming into Wednesday's contest, Calgary was an abysmal 1-for-19 with the man-advantage. But Iginla erased all criticism of his squad's special-teams play with his biggest goal of the playoffs.
Conroy collected the puck in the neutral zone and tapped it forward to Iginla, who deftly fired the puck through San Jose defenceman Scott Hannan's legs and by startled Sharks netminder Evgeni Nabokov for a 1-0 lead.
Gelinas gave Calgary a 2-0 lead at 13:02 of the second period. Conroy won a faceoff just outside the Sharks blue-line and tipped the puck forward to Gelinas, who buried his sixth of the playoffs to bring the sellout crowd to its feet.
Gelinas' goal was his third straight series-clinching goal.
Of note, Gelinas was a member of the Canucks team that lost the 1994 Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers.
The Sharks weren't quick to concede, however. McCauley made it 2-1 at 16:14 of the third period when he joined the rush late, picked up a loose puck and fired it through traffic and past Kiprusoff.
The Sharks, desperately seeking the equalizer, poured on the pressure in the third period but, anchored by Kiprusoff, the Flames held them off.
Regehr added an empty-net marker with one second on the clock to cool the nerves of Flames players and fans.
"(The final minute) was the longest of my life and you know what? After it was over, it was the best minute of my life," Conroy told HNIC.
"It's the emotional swings. And to do it at home, this is awesome.
"I wouldn't want to play anywhere else. This is awesome."
The Flames made NHL history with their win in Game 6. In eliminating Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose, Calgary became the first team to knock off three regular-season division winners in the West.
with files from CP Online