Miikka miracles big difference

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Well, at least Steve Yzerman can cross one goalie off his list of potential Team Canada starters.

In town yesterday to meet with Hockey Canada brass for a full-day powwow to start throwing around Olympic roster ideas, the Detroit Red Wings VP then headed to the Dome to watch his own netminder self-destruct.

Again.

Illustrating perfectly how vulnerable the best team in hockey is these days without reliable goaltending, Chris Osgood was pulled from the game 25 minutes in after allowing three of the worst goals you might ever see at the NHL level.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the Flames can carry their heads high again this morning as they head back onto the road for another scary jaunt.

In an otherwise evenly-matched hockey game decided entirely by goaltending, the Calgary Flames re-asserted themselves as Cup contenders.

As long as the Flames have Miikka Kiprusoff and the Wings have Ty Conklin and Os-not-so-good, there will always be hope if these two meet again.

While Osgood -- as solid a guy as there is in the NHL -- has clung to his belief he hasn't been that bad, his 3.14 goals against average and .885 save percentage say it all.

That said, last night he admitted what Ken Holland and the rest of the Wings camp have refused to acknowledge: He needs to be better.

"I usually play good here, but that was by far the worst game I've had in this building," said the native of Peace River, who has somehow pieced together a 24-7-7 record that says all you need to know about how good his supporting cast is.

"It's just stupid things that happened. Bad bounces. I more or less put two of them in my own net."

Surely, Osgood should have had the weak snapshot Dion Phaneuf bounced off his glove and in, not to mention either of the two prayers he allowed to squeeze between his pads and the post to end his evening.

"Any time you have a rough night in net, it's always a concern, but I'm a big believer Oz will bounce back," said Wings bench boss Mike Babcock.

"Kipper had a ton of big saves tonight -- but we don't need that. We don't need him to be the first star. We just need regular, do-your-own-job stuff, and he's very capable of doing it. He won us a Stanley Cup."

Every bit as big a storyline last night -- as is usual when Detroit is the opponent -- was the brilliant play of Kiprusoff, whose loop-leading 42nd win has the Flames up five points on the hard-charging Canucks.

While he benefited from a few posts, a goal-line clearing from Cory Sarich and a spectacular reach-back save on the goal line that would've closed the gap to one goal in the third, Kiprusoff was clearly the game's first star. Stoning Kirk Maltby on a first-period breakaway and later doing the same to Mikael Samuelsson, he answered almost every riddle thrown his way, save for a Pavel Datsyuk marker late in the second and two in the third that had some worried the Wings would mount the same three-goal comeback the Flames orchestrated 11 days earlier in Motown.

Not so, said Kiprusoff, as he tied his own club record for wins in a season while keeping alive hopes of tying Marty Brodeur's single-season mark of 48.

Despite seeing first-hand in Detroit how sitting back on your heels for the third period can cost you, the Flames did just that, allowing the Wings to pound away with two late goals to make for a tense finish punctuated by a standing ovation from a thoroughly-entertained crowd.

When asked how worried he was about his play, Osgood was curt.

"Zero -- I don't think about it," he said. "You make too big of a deal out of these things. If this happened a day before the playoffs, it wouldn't mean a thing."

We'll check back in three weeks to see if that's the case.


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