SUN Hockey Pool

In Miikka we trust

STEVE MACFARLANE, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 6:35 PM ET

Stumbling for the first time on the night, a distracted Miikka Kiprusoff slowly works his way through his words as he chats with reporters after Wednesday’s massive victory.

The only thing to rattle him? A television type in another scrum who spoke so loudly, the Calgary Flames goaltender wasn’t sure if he should answer the question asked from inches away or the one he couldn’t help but overhear from across the room.

During the 2-1 win against the Phoenix Coyotes that pulled the Flames to within two points of the Colorado Avalanche and the eighth and final playoff spot heading into their battle in Denver Friday night, Kiprusoff showed no signs of distraction.

He was calm, confident and collected as he stopped 29 of 30 shots and led his team to its most timely victory of the season so far.

A bigger one lies ahead.

And Kiprusoff is the key to both coming away with a win in Denver and, ultimately, whether they finish in eighth or ninth in the Western Conference.

Kiprusoff knows as well as anyone how important the potential four-point swing — two points for the winner and two the loser can’t make up — would be.

“It’s not gonna be that tough to get ready for that game,” he said.

For the 33-year-old Finn quietly enjoying one of his best seasons in the NHL, getting ready hasn’t been a problem.

His save percentage sits at .921 — his highest total since the 2005-06 Vezina-winning campaign. His goals-against average of 2.26, also his best mark in four seasons, comes in spite of a year many of his teammates have failed to live up to the same standards.

Forget captain Jarome Iginla.

Forget their overpriced blueline.

If the Flames want to make the playoffs this year, the difference-maker is Kiprusoff.

It has been all season long.

Expect him to start every one of the final five games unless the team is mathematically eliminated.

Expect him to play the way he did against the Coyotes and Capitals, and not in the loss to the New York Islanders last week.

Average in the game against the Isles, and battered by the Bruins in Boston, Kiprusoff has again proven he has to be at his best to give this team a chance to win — and clinch.

“We need goaltending, we know that,” head coach Brent Sutter said in the minutes after Wednesday’s win. “Any team that has success and wins has goaltending at this time of the year. We need our goaltending to be good.”

Better than good, actually. The Flames goaltending has to be spectacular.

Sutter has said himself that at this point of the season that has so often seen opportunities slip away after a couple of strong performances, his players have to be at their best.

All of them.

“There’s no room for error,” he said again Wednesday.

“Right now, just being good is not good enough. We need excellence. And we need that from everybody, not just our goaltender.”

But the goaltender is easily the one player who can’t afford to be anything less than spectacular.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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