SUN Hockey Pool

Kipper still top keeper

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff may be a man of few words, but he made a statement to those questioning who was the top dog between the pipes for the Calgary Flames.

Loud and clear.

With one of his best performances of the season, Kiprusoff stonewalled the Columbus Blue Jackets with 39 saves in last night's 1-0 victory before the sellout crowd of 19,289 at the Saddledome.

"He was our best player tonight," stated head coach Mike Keenan.

"Everybody in the building knows that. Certainly he made the difference for us. He kept us in the game when they were really pushing early, and then he was just stellar throughout the game from start to finish."

So much for those absurd notions of a goaltending controversy.

Inexplicably over the past few days, there have been rumblings whether the franchise goalkeeper was on the verge of being supplanted by Curtis Joseph.

The logic being -- as bizarre as it sounds -- that Kiprusoff was yanked in his previous start, while Joseph followed with five strong periods, including a 3-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes last game.

"I don't understand, do people want Curtis to come in and play bad?" posed centre Craig Conroy, who scored the lone goal in the win. "He came in to give Miikka a rest and actually win games. He's doing exactly what he was brought here to do. He beat Dallas. He beat Phoenix.

"For everybody in the room, Miikka's the guy, and everybody knows it. And look what a fresh Miikka does."

He kept the game scoreless through an opening period, when his team was outshot by an 18-6 margin, and continued it through two periods, including a 79-second spell while the visitors were on a five-on-three powerplay.

He stopped both Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev when the top offensive players had separate breakaways.

And he kept the door shut during a late Columbus powerplay, while the Blue Jackets had the goalie pulled for an extra attacker.

"I think I'm a little lucky, right now," said Kiprusoff, whose performance had very little to do with luck. "It was a big game. We needed these points. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy game."

As for those questions regarding the top goalie, he smothered those as neatly as he treated all those shots from the Blue Jackets.

"It came from somewhere else, not inside this room," he said. "It's my fourth year here, so I know I just have to worry about my own things. Cujo is an unreal guy, I really like him, so it's nice to have a guy like that here."

With the win, the Flames (35-23-9) again pull even with Minnesota for top spot in the Northwest Division, although the Wild hold the edge with more victories.

Thankfully for Kiprusoff, his effort didn't go to waste -- although it appeared the clash was headed for extra time until Conroy broke the deadlock early in the third period by sending a sharp-angled backhand past Pascal Leclaire for his 10th goal of the season.

The Flames' homestand continues Friday when the Nashville Predators come calling (7:30 p.m.).


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