How deep was the NHL’s goaltending talent pool in the 2000s? Consider that one of the best puckstoppers in the history of the Calgary Flames – and the nation of Finland – wasn’t just struggling to find a starting job midway through his prime. He couldn’t even win a backup job.
That’s right. Miikka Kiprusoff was 27 and unhappy as a San Jose Shark in November 2003. There was no competing with established star Evgeni Nabokov for the No. 1 gig, but ‘Kipper’ couldn’t separate himself from Vesa Toskala for second on the depth chart, either.
Spotting an opportunity, the goaltending-starved Flames sent a second-round pick to San Jose for Kiprusoff.
What followed was one of the most legendary half-season performances in NHL history. Kiprusoff was red-hot in his 38-game Flames debut, leading the league with a .933 save percentage and setting a modern-day NHL record with a 1.69 goals-against average, which stood until Brian Elliott bested it in 2011-12. Kiprusoff lifted the Flames to their first playoff appearance in eight years and was just as sublime in the post-season, posting five shutouts and helping the Flames claw all the way to Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final, where they lost to Tampa Bay.
Kiprusoff lost a prime year to the 2004-05 lockout but remained on top of his game afterward, earning his lone Vezina Trophy in 2005-06. He finished second in 2003-04 voting with his half-season of brilliance and would’ve been a frontrunner in that lost lockout year, so he easily could’ve had three Vezinas. Mike Vernon backstopped Calgary to its lone Cup, but Kiprusoff was one game away from doing the same and leads the franchise in wins, shutouts, GAA and SP. He has a resume worthy of the Hall of Fame fringe.
Born: Oct. 26, 1976, Turku, Fin.
NHL Career: 2000-13
Teams: SJ, Cgy
Stats: 319-213-71, 2.49 GAA, .912 SP, 44 SO
All-Star: 1 (First-1)
Trophies: 1 (Vezina-1)
DID YOU KNOW?
Kiprusoff’s 319 NHL wins make him the winningest Finnish goalie in league history, but his reign won’t last. Pekka Rinne (311) is closing in and will become No. 1 early in 2018-19, health permitting. Tuukka Rask (238) is sure to leapfrog Kiprusoff as well, and perhaps Kari Lehtonen (310), too.