SUN Hockey Pool

Hail to the thief

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Miikka Kiprusoff committed his first real crime of the season.

It was highway robbery.

The Calgary Flames goaltender has been chastised for his subpar statistics, his un-Vezina-like performances, stoppable goals that beat him in many of the team's losses this year.

Last night, he looked almost unbeatable as the Flames kicked off their six-game road trip with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

"Yeah, that's the man I'm looking for. Finally found him," said coach Mike Keenan after Kiprusoff's 35-save effort. "It was an incredible performance. You need that kind of goaltending on the road, playing against a desperate team.

"We knew it was going to be a difficult task. He's the man of the hour, for sure."

While the Blackhawks were trying to halt a three-game skid, the Flames knew their season may already be on the line with the Christmas break around the bend and their standing in the Western Conference needing a boost.

The hosts held the edge on the shot clock, outchanced the Flames and poured on the pressure right until the dying seconds, but Kiprusoff denied them with a handful or more of the highlight-reel variety and smothered the Hawks' hopes as he collapsed on the puck in his crease as time expired.

"Give Miikka all the credit for this one," said Craig Conroy. "That's what he does, and that's a very good sign for this team and a good sign for the start of this road trip. He made some Miikka Kiprusoff-like saves. That was special."

Offensively, the bounces favoured the Flames, who got odd goals from Owen Nolan, Cory Sarich and Daymond Langkow.

Nolan was at a harsh angle when he tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, beating Nikolai Khabibulin with a slapshot over the shoulder. Sarich's wrister from the point seemed to bounce before sneaking through the Blackhawks backstop, and Langkow's winner -- which tipped off the shaft of his stick -- was the subject of some teasing inside the locker-room.

Nolan said it was about time something went their way.

"We feel like we're working hard and just aren't getting rewarded," he said. "It's about time we got some bounces."

The Flames fell behind in the first period on Robert Lang's deflection. In the third after falling behind by a pair, the desperate Hawks struck again when Byfuglien swatted a loose puck into the net during a goal-mouth scramble.

But Kiprusoff would not allow another.

"It was a good way to start the road trip. We knew we needed a huge game," said the Finn. "It was nice to get the lead in the third.

"They were coming hard at the end of the game."

Keenan said the powerplay goal from Langkow was a key moment as the eventual winner, but hinted he was holding his breath a little with the Hawks buzzing in the dying seconds: "Expiration of time was important, too."


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