SUN Hockey Pool

Top-notch Kipper shut out

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

Credit for a three-game road swing that saw the Calgary Flames collect five of six possible points despite being outshot and generally outplayed belongs squarely on the shoulders, leg pads, blocker and glove of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.

But when it came to the NHL, Kiprusoff's name was nowhere to be seen among the three stars of the week announced yesterday.

Going 3-0-1 last week with wins against the New York Rangers in Calgary, a shutout over the Canadiens in Montreal, a shootout loss to the Sabres in Buffalo and a 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto the next night, Kiprusoff's omission allows him the opportunity to feel like so many of the shooters who faced him the last seven days.

He was robbed.

First star Henrik Zetterberg and second star Ilya Kovalchuk had dominant offensive outings while helping the Detroit Red Wings and the Atlanta Thrashers each win three straight games.

Goaltender Ryan Miller -- the week's third star -- was equally impressive for the Sabres, who went 3-0 including that shootout win head-to-head with Kiprusoff's Flames.

But Kiprusoff is the sole reason the Sabres needed extra time to sink their sword in the Flames' hearts. And his numbers were better than Miller's, to boot. While Miller's 1.30 goals-against average and .953 save percentage were star-worthy, Kiprusoff's 1.00 GAA and .969 save percentage through four games were top notch.

"He was phenomenal," said Flames winger Curtis Glencross, who watched the last three performances from the press box while serving his suspension for a hit on the Rangers' Chris Drury.

"He bailed us out of that (Sabres) game. And in Toronto, he made some big saves when he had to.

"He played great."

Not one for awards -- Kiprusoff didn't show for the 2006 NHL awards when he claimed the Vezina Trophy -- the stoic netminder won't worry about the league slighting him. His teammates argue he may be playing as well as he did during that Vezina season.

Some go back even further, to the 2004 playoffs when he took the team to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.

"This is the best I've seen him maybe other than '04," said Craig Conroy. "He's taken it to another level."

Kiprusoff is the main architect of the Flames' rise toward the top of the Northwest Division. They have a chance tonight to leapfrog the Colorado Avalanche with a win against the division leader.

"He's been a big reason we've climbed the standings," Eric Nystrom said. "And he needs to keep doing that for us, because there's gonna be times when we need him."

Fans hope there won't be too many more of those times, and that the rest of the team improves enough to give the backstop some relief.

But a few seconds following a goal against seem to be all the rest Kiprusoff needs. He ritually skates to the corner, lifts his mask, drinks a little water and gets re-set in his stance. Conroy has seen the routine from all the goaltending greats.

"That's Patrick Roy. I played with him. Same thing. Grant Fuhr," said Conroy, who ventures a guess into what they're thinking at that time.

"It's a goal, what am I gonna do? I can't take it back," Conroy said in his best goaltending voice. "I can stop the next one, though ... It's just one goal."

Teams are finding it difficult to get more than that one goal against Kiprusoff these days.

And that's reward enough for him.

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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