Long before his was the first name called as part of the starting lineup introductions, it was obvious all eyes would be on Miikka Kiprusoff last night.
However, just six minutes in, all eyes quickly shifted to the Flames bench, looking to see if Henrik Karlsson would be summoned to try cleaning up Kipper’s mess for the third time in eight days.
Yes, it was another bad start by the struggling veteran, leading to yet another Flames loss.
For those keeping score at home that’s his third poor start in his last four outings, ending in another defeat.
The fact that he wasn’t pulled doesn’t mean he’s making any progress.
In years past this was the type of evening Kiprusoff lived for: A goaltender’s duel against a fellow Finn with a reputation for being equally as stingy.
But for the fourth time this year, it’s a battle with Niklas Backstrom that found Kiprusoff on the losing side despite the fact the Wild netminder is no longer one of the game’s elite ‘keepers and his club isn’t much of a threat to any team outside of Calgary. In that once classic tete-a-tete Kiprusoff has allowed 15 goals, Backstrom three.
Three minutes into the evening, Kiprusoff over-committed while sliding across to try stopping a Martin Havlat shot from the hash marks, to no avail. This time the kind of shot he’d routinely stop in the past was no match for No. 34.
Three minutes later, Mikko Koivu’s shot from the top of the faceoff circle slipped past Kiprusoff who barely reacts. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest he was screened by Andrew Brunette during the powerplay.
Nonetheless, game over.
Despite the impressive resiliency of the Flames of late — an attitude matched by the shockingly upbeat ’Dome dwellers last night — the damage was done.
If there’s one thing you can definitively say about the Wild it’ they know how to protect an early lead.
None of this is to suggest it’s all Kiprusoff’s fault.
The game winner in a 6-0 loss wasn’t so much a bad goal as an untimely one — the type Kiprusoff has been giving up lately. You know, the kind that comes at the beginning of games or periods.
He did well to try making up for it in the second with a solid save early on while Curtis Glencross served five minutes in the bin for making Clayton Stoner look woozy (I’ve long wanted to write that. By the way, expect a suspension for Glencross).
It was to no avail as things deteriorated further in the third.
Surrendering two goals on five shots that early in a crucial divisional game has a way of taking the air out of a bench, stadium or even the faintest of playoff hopes.
“January, February and March are all about goaltending,” said Flames coach Brent Sutter earlier in the day.
“The games are so tight you need those big saves. Look at our game in Montreal — it’s 4-2 in the second and Karl (Karlsson) makes an outstanding save. Bang, we rallied around it and tied the game up the first three minutes of the third period. It could have been 5-2 and game over. But you could hear it on the bench: ‘That’s what we need — let’s go.’ That’s the attitude of the group right now. The guys have been really positive.”
Too bad they don’t have dependable goaltending to match, which is admittedly a rare and unfortunate situation in these parts.
While Minnesota’s third goal was a defensive breakdown Kiprusoff was clearly napping on the fourth when Cal Clutterbuck stepped over the blue line and sent a seemingly harmless snap shot through the Flames goalie.
The team’s play the last month has been impressive and downright inspiring at times. But unless they get the most important part of NHL hockey — goaltending — this playoff pipe dream of theirs might just end by the all-star break.
“He’s your starter, you’re No.-1 guy. You have to rely on him. That’s what he’s here for,” said Sutter when asked if perhaps Karlsson should be handed the starting gig.
“I don’t question (Kiprusoff) on anything. With the situation we’re in if he’s not at the top of his game I have to go with the other guy.”
Guess what. It’s time.