CALGARY - Like a boxer who had to battle through a couple of standing eight counts and persevered for a win, Miikka Kiprusoff took a step forward with his game in Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver.
Now, he must build on it.
The struggles experienced the past few weeks by the Calgary Flames netminder have been front and centre of late.
The calling out by head coach Brent Sutter after being hooked in Carolina. Another tough outing which meant going to the bench in favour of Henrik Karlsson in Montreal, and then the jeering from the Flames faithful in a 6-0 home loss to Minnesota last week.
There was relief when he delivered a 41-save performance through overtime and denied two of three opponents in the shootout to defeat the Western Conference leaders.
"I felt really good," he said when assessing his outing against the Canucks. "It's a big challenge, they're a good team, and it felt good to do my job."
It wasn't classic Kiprusoff.
Not when he surrendered a goal on the first shot, a long blast that went through the wickets
Not when he was beat by a couple of others, one due to being out of position -- a back-door play to Alex Edler -- and one of those screened shots that managed to squeeze between his arm and body.
To call them bad goals would be too strong.
They were head shakers compared to past Kiprusoff outings.
Still, Kiprusoff gritted it out with a game much more difficult than the 43-save outing Vancouver counterpart Roberto Luongo drummed up in the previous meeting this month -- a 3-1 Canucks victory a few weeks ago.
There was some luck, such as when Ryan Kesler's rebound attempt rang off the post and no Canucks could slip it into the yawning cage before Brendan Morrison swept the puck away.
And there were more than a few saves Kiprusoff hardly looked comfortable while making.
However, there also were plenty of stops where he looked like the dominant netminder we've seen for almost all of his nearly seven seasons in Calgary.
You know the ones -- where he's aggressive, square to the shooter and absorbs the hard shot by vacuuming it into his body.
"During powerplays, when teams have a chance to really hammer the puck, they were hitting him right here," Sutter said while pointing at his chest. "He was out of his net and in position."
It's a step forward and certainly helped his teammates found a way to win for him instead of needing him to be all-world.
"Kip stuck with it," defenceman Cory Sarich said. "Look at how many shots they had, especially toward the end of the game, but he got in front of those.
"He got some help, but that's what you need."
Before the game, Sutter was asked who he planned to start in net, and the coach responded in a manner which made it known there was no second thought.
The faith was rewarded, even with some harrowing moments.
"I had a lot of confidence in Kipper, and that he would come in and battle and compete," Sutter explained. "He's a very good goalie. He just needs a little boost."
Now comes the next step, putting those shaky performances truly in the past.
"It's good to win. I felt pretty good about my game," Kiprusoff said while taking a moment to relax in a nearly empty visitors dressing room in Vancouver. "Now I have to keep working and keep it at the same level."