CALGARY – A day later, the Saddledome was still buzzing over the improbable 4-3 Calgary Flames win over the San Jose Sharks. One in which a 40-year-old back-up goaltender, who had not sniffed playoff action since 2004, stole the show to put Calgary up 2-1 in the series and swing momentum toward a club that had limped and backed into the post-season only two weeks before.
Veteran Curtis Joseph was brought in as an insurance policy to Miikka Kiprusoff in January. And on Sunday the Flames short-term investment paid off.
Kiprusoff was pulled after giving up three goals on five shots in the first 3:33 and Joseph came in cold, blanking the Sharks in a 22-save effort. In the process, the Flames stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to win a dramatic Game 3.
“No matter how many years you play, it’s always something new and exciting. It’s sports you never know what may happen,” said Joseph on Monday afternoon. “It was something I’d never experienced before”.
Nor had many inside the Flames dressing room, including their coach, who recorded his 93rd post-season career victory fifth all-time in NHL history.
“I’ve been in the playoffs long enough to go through scenarios, but I’ve never been through that before,” said Mike Keenan. “I can’t recall being down by that deficit and coming back to win”.
But the Flames did exactly that, thanks in no small part to Joseph’s clutch performance. He shut out the Sharks for 56:27 of regulation hockey, was named the game’s first star and provided a huge lift to a team that was shell shocked after a terrible start to their first home playoff game.
“It’s not easy to go in and he came in and played unreal. It was huge what (Joseph) did for us,” said Kiprusoff. “I did thank Cujo after the game. It’s tough to give up three goals like that, but we got a huge win.”
The relationship between Joseph and Kiprusoff has worked well in a remarkably short period of time. They had worked together only nine weeks before the playoffs began, but each suggests they see the game the same way. The pair communicate on a consistent basis and, for instance, were the last two that left the San Jose visitors dressing room after the Flames loss in Game 2 of the series.
“Miikka is easy to talk to and not a head case at all. We get along really well and he is good to talk to,” said Joseph, who Sunday became the first NHL goaltender to win a playoff game for five different teams. “I know my role and certainly am happy with it.”
With the grind of the post-season, having a legitimate No. 2 with a bulk of experience was a key reason Keenan reached out to his former goaltender in the winter. The two were together in St. Louis briefly and the coach felt the best back-up available to Kiprusoff was the free agent who had just helped Canada win gold at the Spengler Cup.
“If you want to go deep in the playoffs, you need two goaltenders,” Keenan said.
“We’re talking 25-26 games in 50 or 55 nights. In this case, you get a veteran, experienced goaltender. He helps our locker room a big deal.”
For the second consecutive day Keenan did not announce his starter for Game 4, even joking Curtis McElhinney a prospect with the team’s AHL farm club in Quad Cities would get the nod.
But Kiprusoff will no doubt go, and if history is any indication, the 2006 Vezina trophy winner will respond in a bounce back game.
“For me it’s a new game and a new start,” he said. “It is a big game and I’m ready”.
Whether or not the Sharks will be after such a deflating loss remains to be seen. After the Game 3 defeat, San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov stated that “we need to stop playing like boys and have to play like men,” suggesting his team could not get pushed around if they wanted to win the series.
But defenceman Craig Rivet refuses to believe Sunday’s meltdown will lead to the same spring trend of early Sharks exits, which has become the norm the last four years.
“Honestly, I believe this is going to make our team stronger,” said Rivet. “That was a great eye opener. We feel we’re the better team and we can’t keep dwelling or wondering what could have been. We are looking to Game 4 and redeeming ourselves.”
Notes: Kiprusoff has started every Flames playoff game since being traded to Calgary by the Sharks in 2003 The Flames are 88 per cent on the penalty kill in this series, having fought off 17 penalties tied with the New York Rangers for the most in that category through three games of the NHL playoffs.