CALGARY – The Calgary Flames are back in the Western Conference playoff picture and have goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to thank.
Kiprusoff stopped all 28 shots on he faced Saturday to record his fourth shutout of the season as the Flames (28-22-9) blanked the L.A. Kings 1-0 to move into eighth spot in the West.
“He’s been our glue,” Flames coach Brent Sutter said of his No. 1 goalie Monday. “He gives us a tremendous chance every night. I don’t think he gets enough credit personally outside around Calgary like he should. He’s definitely one of the best goalies in the game. He comes every night and he brings it every night for us.”
Backstopped by Kiprusoff, the Flames have gone 5-0-3 in February and are now just two points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for seventh spot in the conference.
“If you’re winning, it’s way more fun,” said Kiprusoff, who has compiled a 10-3-3 record and a 1.65 goals-against average in his past 16 games. “That’s what we have to do anyways. It’s hard. There’s so many teams right there and we have to be that one team that’s going to make it so we have to really push hard here.
“It was a huge game in L.A., but it’s passed now.”
The Flames play four straight home games at the Scotiabank Saddledome, starting with Tuesday night’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers.
“(Tuesday) is the biggest day for this hockey team again,” said Kiprusoff, who has been in net for all four victories over the Oilers this season and has won each of his last nine starts against Edmonton.
Flames defenceman Mark Giordano has been continually amazed by Kiprusoff’s level of competitiveness and by the spectacular saves the Finnish netminder makes on a regular basis.
“He’s obviously our MVP all year,”Giordano said. “As a team it’s been pretty reassuring watching him night in and night out make huge saves—not just the regular saves, but also saves you wouldn’t think sometimes are possible.”
Even the players shake their head in amazement at some of the stops Kiprusoff makes in pressure-packed situations.
“Sometimes you sit back and say, ‘Wow,'” Giordano said. “He’s so incredibly flexible and athletic so he can get to spots other goalies can’t.
“He knows and we know as a team that if we’re going to make a push and get into playoffs, he’s going to be a big part of it. So far this year, in my opinion, he’s been our best player.”
Captain Jarome Iginla went so far as to say that Kiprusoff has been playing as good or better than he did back during the 2005-06 season when he won the Vezina Trophy.
“He doesn’t talk about it,” Iginla said. “He just goes about his way and prepares the same way. We know as players how fortunate we are to have him in there and he’s a big part of this team. We don’t see everybody every day, but I can’t imagine anyone’s playing much better than he is.”
Kiprusoff recorded his 300th career win on Feb. 8 in San Jose by stopping 34 shots to backstop the Flames to a 4-3 victory over the Sharks, the team that drafted him in the fifth round (116th overall) at the 1995 NHL draft.
Three nights later before a 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks at home, the Flames honoured Kiprusoff by presenting him with a silver goalie stick to mark the milestone moment.
“It feels really good,” said the 35-year-old native of Turku, Finland. “It’s really nice. The organization appreciates and respects what I’ve done. It’s an honour.”
Sutter was happy to see his goaltender get the recognition he deserves.
“He’s not one who pats himself on the back,” Sutter said. “He thinks about just every day coming to work and being the best he can. That’s why his standards as a goaltender are where it’s at. You think about over the years that he’s played here, he’s been pretty phenomenal for this franchise.”
While Kiprusoff took time to talk to the media after practice on Monday, country singer Dierks Bentley and two members of his band suited up to skate with other members of the Flames.
Sutter also took part in the impromptu shinny session.
“He was excited about maybe being able to have the opportunity to skate here at the ‘Dome,” said Sutter, who met Bentley over the summer. “He’s a good guy. He’s a big hockey fan.”
Although he didn’t get the opportunity to face Kiprusoff, Bentley enjoyed getting the chance to skate with other members of the Flames and shoot pucks at Henrik Karlsson, who was recently recalled from the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat.
“It’s really cool to be on the ice,” said Bentley, who’s playing a show in Calgary on Tuesday night. “This is pretty legendary, a pretty big deal for me. I thought I had a couple moves there, a couple chances. A chance even to shoot on an NHL goalie is an incredible experience.”