Pogge saves face

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

Justin Pogge would be the first to admit he flat out stunk the first three games of the playoffs.

He lost his confidence, his feel for the puck and, as a result, his Hitmen were down 2-1 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Allowing 13 goals, including a handful of weak ones, the only thing worse than the all-world netminder was the marketing idea asking Hitmen fans to wear camouflage.

However, after a wardrobe change of his own and two days of intense work with goaltending coach Darcy Wakaluk, Pogge returned to being the white knight last night. Stopping 33 of Lethbridge's 34 shots in a 2-1 win to even the first-round series 2-2, the 19-year-old was back in familiar form.

"The black pads are in the garbage, pretty much," smiled Pogge, who changed his fortunes when he ditched new black pads late in Tuesday's game for the comfy white pillows that helped lead Canada to a world junior crown at Christmas.

"It was pretty much a mistake to try the black ones in the first place. I didn't get much sleep after the last game but once I woke up I started working hard for the next game. Those (last) two games are over -- it's 2-2 now."

Much like fellow 'Dome dominator Miikka Kiprusoff generally does, Pogge spent the night having to be a solid backstop for a bullish blueline corps that does well to ensure saves aren't generally of a spectacular nature.

That said, Pogge knows he has the same power Kiprusoff does to carry his Calgary club into the playoffs with the type of performances that made them the best goaltenders in their respective leagues.

"Everyone's allowed to have a burp like that," said Jeff Schultz, who did a brilliant job defensively to make Pogge's job easier.

"It's nice to see the old Pogge -- playing the puck a lot and making the big saves down the stretch. He's gone through rough patches before and, although some of the guys were giving him a rough time about it, we know he's one of those guys who can figure it out himself."

The only blemish on Pogge's comeback outing came in the first when his club's post-season penchant for the penalty box saw his team down two men and unable to help him stop the last of a four-shot barrage.

Emphasizing the notion that Pogge indeed holds his team's playoff future in his hands is the fact his charges have yet to score a five-on-five goal. Both Hitmen markers last night came with the man advantage, as have nine of their 11 since March madness began. So offensively challenged are the Hitmen this year, referee Cory McLean appeared to gift them the game-winner on a Karl Alzner rebound that Hurricanes backstop Justin Leclerc caught with his trapper while falling backwards. Despite immediately signaling a goal from behind the net, replays showed the puck didn't appear to cross the goal line mid-air as McLean suggested.

With the 'Canes pressing late in the game for the equalizer, Pogge robbed first-period goal scorer Kris Hogg several times including in tight where a rebound clanged off the post. In the final minute, with the Lethbridge goalie pulled, Pogge sprawled spread-eagle style to kick out a rebound effectively sending 10,628 home happy knowing their MVP is back.

And because of it, anything is possible for his Hitmen.


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