SUN Hockey Pool

Goalie no goat in early exit

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff's backside must be sore.

That was a long fall from hero to scapegoat.

A shutout just a few nights ago helped his Calgary Flames force Game 7 in the NHL first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks -- a series many predicted would never see a winner-take all scenario -- and fuelled belief they might actually pull off the upset.

By the time he took an early seat on the bench in the second period, though, the only upset was in the pit of the stomach's of every Flames fan watching.

Anyone who believes the loss was Kiprusoff's fault, however, is bonkers.

There's no doubt the former Vezina winner let in a softie Tuesday night.

In a game of inches, he left one too many of them between his pads on the Sharks' game-tying goal.

But Kiprusoff bailed his teammates out on a couple of early breakdowns and didn't get a lot of help facing 30 shots before being pulled. It's a good thing the lanky goaltender's body is made of rubber.

He'll bounce back in a big way next year to convince the locals he's still one of the best backstops in the business.

Kiprusoff isn't the only member of the Flames franchise in need of a parachute for the post-playoff fan fallout.

Mike Keenan deserves his fair share of criticism for pulling his starting goaltender in the deciding contest.

In an effort to rally the troops, he summoned Curtis Joseph, who also came on in relief in Game 3 when the Flames were down by three goals and stopped every shot he faced in a 4-3 comeback win.

That appearance, though, came just a few minutes after warmup. Coming in cold Tuesday, the soon-to-be 41-year-old saw the second Sharks shot fly past him and essentially end any hopes of another comeback.

A time-out might have been enough to help settle his reeling squad after the fourth Sharks goal, but we'll never know how things would have turned out.

GM Darryl Sutter is not exempt from blame, either. His vision is being questioned more and more by regular folks these days.

That's what happens after three straight first-round exits. But most tend to forget the Flames are one of the few teams that has made the playoffs four straight seasons.

The reality is Sutter put together a pretty good team.

There's no telling how far they might have gone had they squeaked by the Sharks.

But playing like a great team one night and an average AHL squad the next is a tough way to go through a season.

Does it really surprise anyone that inconsistency ultimately ended the Flames' playoff run?

The fluctuations from week to week, game to game and, sometimes, period to period are the reason they had to face the league's second-best team in the first place.

Just one more win in the regular-season would have pitted them against the Minnesota Wild. Had they played against the Wild the way they did against the Sharks, the Flames would be moving into the second round for the first time since 2004.

They deserve credit for taking the Sharks to the limit.

And that's thanks in large part to those same people you're now questioning.


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