SUN Hockey Pool

Kiprusoff deflects praise

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:05 PM ET

NASHVILLE -- Almost insulted as the crowd around him grew from a couple of reporters to a handful, Miikka Kiprusoff begged them not to grill him looking for reasons for his spectacular play this season.

"It's nothing new. All the same," he said Saturday morning in Columbus as he enjoyed a rare day off while backup Curtis McElhinney prepared for his third start of the season.

But it's not the same old Miikka tending the twine for the Flames.

He hasn't had a season this consistent since his Vezina Trophy-winning campaign of 2005-06.

Thankful for a team that is showing a renewed commitment to defence on most nights -- Kiprusoff credits the skaters in front of him for the kind of statistics the Finn hasn't enjoyed since he claimed the title of the NHL's best goalie four years ago -- the 33-year-old gets that same kind of praise from the guys who are tasked with protecting him.

"He's one of the best out there. I've known that. Everyone knows that," said defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who is playing in front of Kiprusoff for the first time this season.

"I've played with (Roberto) Luongo and he's a good goalie, too. But coming here, you get more of an appreciation for what (Kiprusoff) does first-hand.

"It's good to have that on your team. Goaltending can get you places. You don't want to rely on the guy every night, but when he can steal you games, it's nice."

He stole one in Detroit to kick off the current six-game road trip with a 3-0 shutout of the Red Wings.

He's often been his team's best player, and some are suggesting his dominance reminds them of the Stanley Cup run of 2004, when Kiprusoff backed the club to the seventh game of the final series.

"Well, that's nice to hear," Kiprusoff said with a grin.

"It's so much how the team plays. Guys have been working so hard. The goalie ends up looking good when guys play good defence and I think that's the biggest thing this year."

Kiprusoff's 2.38 goals-against average heading into tonight's game in Nashville against the Predators is his best since 2005-06. It would be even better if not for a couple of team collapses against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stopping more than 92% of the nearly 700 shots he's faced through 22 games this season is another indication it's not just team play that has people on his own team talking.

The talk doesn't stop with the Flames, either.

"If he's playing that well again, the league's in trouble -- and the Flames are in good shape," said Blue Jackets defenceman Mike Commodore when told of one Flames player's remark he hasn't seen Kiprusoff this solid since the Cup run. Commodore was a roleplayer with the Flames back then.

"No disrespect to Jarome (Iginla) or anyone else, but I think even Jarome would say Miikka was the No.-1 reason we got (to the Cup final).

"He stole the series from Detroit, by himself basically."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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