SUN Hockey Pool

Kipper reel deal for Vezina

RANDY SPORTAKSUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:49 AM ET

Not only was the save a thing of beauty and worthy of heavy rotation on the highlight reels, it was the timing that had Eric Nystrom so excited.

Let's take you back to the middle of the third period in Friday's Calgary Flames 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.

The Predators got on the board a few minutes earlier to make it a one-goal game, and then, while enjoying the powerplay, visiting forward Ryan Jones had a golden chance for the equalizer.

The shot was labelled for the top shelf, but Kiprusoff slid across and came up with the incredible stop using the paddle of his stick.

Soon after, the Flames salted away the game -- Adrian Aucoin played the part of offensive hero with the insurance goal -- but Nystrom and the rest of the Flames had to point out the importance of that stop.

"Sometimes when you lose a game, the other team scores a timely goal, and sometimes when you win a game, the goalie makes the timely save," Nystrom said. "It was 2-1 at that time, he makes the save, we get a powerplay chance and capitalize.

"If they score, who knows what happens there."

For some reason, Kiprusoff is not getting his due around the league for the Flames fortunes.

The critics, especially those who don't watch the unflappable Finn mind the twine for Calgary night after night, are quick to point out his higher-than-expected goals-against average (2.76, tied for 25th best in the league prior to yesterday's action) and lower-than-usual save percentage (.905, good for 27th place).

Despite a league-leading 30 wins -- which gives him a shot at becoming the first goalie in NHL history to reach 50 in a season -- Kiprusoff's success is pinned on playing for an upper echelon team nearly every game.

The argument may be valid, but Kiprusoff warrants more respect than he's receiving.

Especially since the club turned its fortunes in mid-November.

Since the Flames' infamous 6-1 drubbing in San Jose Nov. 13, Kiprusoff has been back to the form he showed in the Vezina Trophy-winning 2005-06 season.

Over the 28 starts, he's had since that clash, he's racked up a 21-5-2 record, a 2.33 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

The numbers aren't all-world, but exactly what the squad needed to start a run that's meant pulling away from the rest of the Northwest Division.

It's provided the all-important confidence among the rest of the team. The players believe Kiprusoff will provide the goaltending necessary to win each and every game, an aspect of the game that goes well beyond basic numbers.

"When there are scrums around the net, I always think, 'Kipper's got it.' " Nystrom said. "Even when he's down and out, the stick comes out or the glove comes up. He battles and makes those huge saves."

Still, the numbers have to be mentioned.

After all, shouldn't setting a record for victories in a season earn some Vezina consideration?

Kiprusoff just shrugs away any such talk.

"I feel pretty good and we're in first place, so that is great," he said. "Still, we have to keep pushing. If we want to be a top team in this league, we have to keep winning and keep going hard."

He feels the same about the victories that keep piling up.

"I've been asked quite a bit about it. People bring it up, but I can't think about it," said Kiprusoff, who is a dozen short of equalling his franchise record for wins in a season.

"I have to stick to the next game and keep it simple. We'll see. I have nothing else to say about it."

Instead, he'll just let those critical, eye-catching saves do the talking.

"I just tried to get over there, and it hit my stick, so that was a nice feeling," he said of the aforementioned stop on Jones. "You don't want to make it like that, but people like seeing those saves."


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