SUN Hockey Pool

Curtis eager to land in-crease in action

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff was feeling so ill, he wasn't even sitting on the bench.

So Curtis McElhinney, the Calgary Flames' second-string puck-stopper, didn't need to be reminded there was essentially no backup plan.

"In regards to whether or not I was going to get pulled or hurt or anything like that, that was the last thought on my mind," McElhinney grinned. "There was noooo way I was coming out of that game."

For the first 44 minutes, there was nothing getting past him, either.

Pressed into action as Kiprusoff waged a bout with the flu, McElhinney responded with the finest performance of his NHL career, stopping 38 shots in Wednesday's 3-2 overtime victory over the host Dallas Stars.

Inside the visitors' dressing room at American Airlines Center, where Kiprusoff was trying to stay warm in case of an emergency, McElhinney's cellphone was buzzing non-stop.

"Just a lot of texts," McElhinney said. "Obviously, nobody knew I was playing and I didn't go out of my way to contact them and let them know, so I got a lot of messages from people turning on the game halfway through and surprised to see me.

"It's nice to hear. It's always good. They all come calling when you win games, of course."

Flames head coach Brent Sutter could also come calling again soon. While Kiprusoff was back between the pipes for Thursday's 2-1 overtime triumph against the Blues in St. Louis, McElhinney likely won't have to wait too long for a chance to snare his second victory of the season.

Tonight's tilt against the New York Rangers (8 p.m., CBC) is the Flames' third game in a hectic month that will see them hit the ice 14 times. There's two more back-to-back sets before the calendar turns to December.

"He's going to get more opportunities as we move along here," Sutter said yesterday.

The 26-year-old understudy will be back at the end of the bench tonight, encouraging his teammates and waiting for his next call to action.

Jamie McLennan, who was Kiprusoff's sidekick for two seasons and is now employed as the Flames goaltending coach, knows the feeling.

"Mental toughness is a big part of being a backup goaltender because you just don't know when that opportunity is going to come, especially when you've got a workhorse in front of you," McLennan said. "As a backup, you have to be ready in any circumstance."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA


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