The Calgary Flames are just one victory away from a date with Montreal in the Stanley Cup final.
The Flames pushed the pesky St. Louis Blues to the brink of elimination tonight with a 4-2 victory in Game 5 of the Campbell Conference final, as Dan Quinn broke a 1-1 tie by scoring two goals less than two minutes apart in the second period.
That sent the best-of-seven series to St. Louis Monday night, with the Blues down, three games to two. A seventh game, if necessary, would be played here Wednesday, with the Stanley Cup final opening Friday.
The Blues were outshot tonight, 29-21, and their power play not only went zero for eight but also yielded a shorthanded goal. Nevertheless, St. Louis was very much in contention, trailing by 3-2 after Mark Hunter's short slap shot from the right-wing circle beat goalie Mike Vernon with 10:23 left.
The goal that eased the pressure less than four minutes later was the first in more than a year for Mike Eaves, the University of Wisconsin product who had retired because of a severe concussion.
Playing only his fourth game since he was lured back to work by Bob Johnson, his old college coach who guides the Flames, Eaves skated behind the St. Louis net and made a sudden move out front to fire the puck past goalie Rick Wamsley.
"Joey Mullen was forechecking and there was a man on him, so he kicked it to me," Eaves said. "I looked out front and the defenseman Ric Nattress hesitated, so I took advantage of him.
"It's good to be able to contribute. I came back because we were close to the Stanley Cup. I have good feelings about it. If I was worried, I wouldn't go out there."
"That fourth goal was a big goal, kind of a killer," said Vernon, the rookie whose playoff record ballooned to 10-4. "They're a sleeper team, they just lay back and then suddenly they're all over you. But now the ball's in our court."
Referee Don Koharski whistled 30 penalties and, although 16 were charged to the Flames, the frequent unbalanced play worked to Calgary's advantage.
Colin Pattersson scored shorthanded and the Flames outshot St. Louis, 6-3, during the Blues' eight power plays. That left the visitors at ground zero with the extra man for the series, since they are two for 25 and have yielded two shorthanded scores.
Meanwhile, Quinn's first goal was recorded on a power play, giving the Flames a 10-for-29 conversion rate in extra-man situations. "We've had success on the power play all year and we've certainly done a good job killing penalties, but I'm not telling you how we're doing it," Johnson said.
Patterson scored on the Blues' first power play and no doubt the goal intimidated St. Louis on later opportunities. Patterson blocked a shot by Nattress and was tackled by the Blues' defender, but the penalty was delayed and Patterson rose to score on a rebound of a shot by Steve Bozek.
Defenseman Rob Ramage was guarding the net with Wamsley out of position and the puck squirted between him and the post at his left, then came back out. The red light stayed off, but Koharski signaled the score. The doubting St. Louis coach, Jacques Demers, sent reserve goalie Greg Millen into the TV studio to check the replay, which confirmed the call.
Vernon made some outstanding saves, particularly on a dive to his left to foil Herb Raglan, before Doug Gilmour's ninth goal of the playoffs pulled St. Louis even in the second period.
It prompted Johnson to say, "The Blues are a funny team. You're working and working and you seem to be dominating, but you look at the scoreboard and it's tied."
This time it was not tied for long. With the Blues' Rob Ramage off for holding, Quinn converted Joel Otto's goal-mouth feed at 9:28 and Calgary was ahead to stay. The Blues' Rick Meagher was off target on two good chances before Quinn struck again at 11:23.