Stingy Kipper in elite company

Pittsburgh Penguins' Greg Malone (12) can't get a second period shot past Calgary Flames goalie...

Pittsburgh Penguins' Greg Malone (12) can't get a second period shot past Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff during NHL action Saturday, Dec. 3, 2005, in Pittsburgh.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:34 PM ET

He laid the foundation in 2004.

Filling in for an injured Roman Turek, he set a modern-day record with a 1.69 goals-against average, then carried the Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup final.

In Miikka Kiprusoff's debut as a full-time No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, the Finn became the league's first backstop to win 30 games this season with a 3-1 victory over the

St. Louis Blues Thursday night.

That cements his status as an elite player, says veteran teammate Darren McCarty.

"To reach 30 wins is huge," he said.

"Now he's into the (Martin) Brodeur, (Ed) Belfour, (Marty) Turco, (Roberto) Luongo -- into the No. 1 goalie (role), playing 65 games a year. That's where he is. He's one of the best, if not the best in the league. He proves it night in and night out."

McCarty knows how tough it is to play against Kiprusoff, who helped eliminate his Detroit Red Wings in the second round in 2004 with back-to-back 1-0 shutouts in Games 5 and 6.

"He was the X-factor in that series," said McCarty. "We just couldn't get the puck behind him."

McCarty, whose Flames take on the San Jose Sharks at the 'Dome tonight (8 p.m., CBC), is lucky Kipper is now on his side.

While not known for being much of a talker, Kiprusoff's actions on the ice speak volumes. And he's thankful for the opportunity to play as often as GM/head coach Darryl Sutter has allowed.

"It's kind of a fun challenge for me," said Kiprusoff, who has a 2.20 GAA, a .916 save percentage and a league-best six shutouts.

"I always wanted to play lots of games and now I've been given a chance to play a lot.

I really take that as a challenge. I've been feeling really good."

The hip injury that bothered him enough to stay away from the Olympics to rest has been tested in games against the Canucks and Blues this week. Watching him rip from post to post while stopping 40 of 43 shots, it appears the pain -- which Kiprusoff said was "the same feeling (as) if you pull your groin" -- is a thing of the past.

"It's been good. I can stretch much better. I really hope it stays that way," said Kiprusoff, knocking on the wooden bench beneath him.

"It wasn't that fun. Right now it's much better and that's the main thing for me. It's so much more fun to play and work on the practice when there's no pain."

Even in practice, the unflappable goaltender is tough to beat. Take yesterday's finish, for example. Thirteen Flames forwards -- McCarty included -- swarmed Kiprusoff but it took a few minutes to slip a puck behind him.

"He just loves that stuff. It's a challenge to him," said McCarty. "You start heckling him and stuff like that and all of a sudden it's, 'No more for you.' "

Kiprusoff said he might as well have some fun every time he puts on the pads.

"When I come to the rink, why not work 100 percent when I have to come here anyway?" he said. "I think it's good for the players and it's good for me when I give my best in the practice, too."


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