CALGARY, Alberta -- The pandemonium began while the puck was still in play, sliding alone toward the tranquility of the San Jose Sharks' unguarded net.
When the final score of the Western Conference finals bisected the goal line as time expired, the Calgary Flames and their fans were going too crazy to notice. With one more fantastic finish.
Captain Jarome Iginla scored his 10th playoff goal and the Flames advanced to their first Stanley Cup finals in 15 years with a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 last night.
Miikka Kiprusoff made 18 saves for the Flames, whose victory was the first by a home team in the series. But Calgary's "Red Sea" finally had something to cheer as the Flames took an early lead and hung on through the third period.
Calgary missed the playoffs in each of the previous seven seasons before a young roster, a new coach, and an otherworldly goalie put together an improbable playoff run -- and it's not over yet.
"You never know when this opportunity is going to come again in your life," said Iginla, who leads the playoffs with 17 points. "You'd like to think it's going to happen every year but we know that's not the case. You have to grab it when it comes."
The Sharks pulled goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the final minute of a relentless third-period attack, but the Flames' Robyn Regehr was credited with a goal with one second left after San Jose's Alex Korolyuk attempted to pass the puck from behind the Calgary net.
It went the length of the ice, settling into the net while the Flames threw their sticks and gloves in the air.
Martin Gelinas, twice an overtime hero in series-clinching games, also put the puck in the net for the sixth-seeded Flames, who will open their fourth straight playoff series on the road Tuesday, either at Tampa Bay or Philadelphia.
Gelinas got the winning goal in the second period.
"[Overtime goals] are too hard on my heart," he said. "It was good to get it out of the way early. When we started the season, we knew we had a gritty team that worked hard, and our goal was to make the playoffs. To say that we were going to get the Stanley Cup, that's hard to believe."
Calgary hasn't been in the NHL's final round since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989 -- and the Canadian anthem will be sung in the finals for the first time since Vancouver made it in 1994.