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Flames are fanning pride

Canada one win from Cup reality

CALGARY, Alberta -- 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 hosts 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 give their fans something to cheer.

"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 (Daryl Sutter), a young lineup, and a rising star in net (Miikka Kiprusoff) 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 Oilers fans are behind us right now."

After several years of struggles during which many suggested only the Toronto Maple Leafs were financially capable of competing with the NHL's best teams, five of Canada's six clubs were in the playoffs this spring. Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary both made the second round, where the Flames knocked off the mighty Detroit Red Wings.

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."

The Sharks have lost four straight home games, including an ugly 3-0 defeat in Game 5 Monday night in which sloppy defense was responsible for the Calgary strikes.

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