SUN Hockey Pool

Netminding no-brainer for Flames

With nine games left on the regular-season slate, Flames head coach Brent Sutter says he's going...

With nine games left on the regular-season slate, Flames head coach Brent Sutter says he's going with Miikka Kiprusoff in net from now until the end of it. STUART DRYDEN/CALGARY SUN

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:42 PM ET

Brent Sutter has a goaltending plan for the season.

All Miikka Kiprusoff, all the time.

Until the Calgary Flames know their playoff fate, or unless the club’s star goalkeeper says he has nothing in the tank and needs a night off, bank on seeing No. 34 between the pipes the rest of the way.

That could mean all nine games remaining on the schedule.

More prominent right now, that means all four games on this critical road trip — including three in four nights in California, starting with Sunday night’s clash against the Anaheim Ducks.

“It’s the coach’s call,” Kiprusoff said as the players headed from practice at the Max Bell Centre to the airport. “If they want me to play every game, I’ll play. If they want me to play 30 games (all season), I’ll play 30 games.

“That’s how I am. I play if they tell me to play.”

Sutter was asked whether he planned to play Kiprusoff every game on this trip.

Usually, you’ll receive the standard “We’ll take it day-by-day” or “I haven’t thought that far ahead” when those questions are broached.

Sutter’s reply was a succinct and emphatic, “Yes.”

The Flames were sitting eighth in the Western Conference before pucks dropped Saturday, but their perch in that playoff position was precarious.

In fact, they’ll likely be on a bubble the rest of the way, barring an incredible winning streak.

The good news for the Flames is they have a proven, big-time goalie.

Even bigger, Kiprusoff relishes the crunch-time opportunity.

Don’t kid yourself, he may seem calm and cool, but Kiprusoff is as competitive as they come and wants to be in goal when the games mean the most. If that means facing all three California teams in four nights, so be it.

“That’s my job. I’ve been playing a lot every year,” he said. “At this time, we need all the points we can get. Every game is huge. It’s tough, but it’s fun at the same time. It’s not that hard to get ready for games.”

Not so easy is coming through. As much as the Flames would like to be further up the standings and able to breathe easier, they don’t have that luxury.

Therefore, every game seemingly becomes more important than the one before, and there is extra pressure, especially for the key personnel.

Kiprusoff knows he must be at his best, but he doesn’t want to think that way.

“It doesn’t do any good to worry too much. I have to just try to win the next game,” he said. “If we’re able to play as well as we can, we should be all right. The thing is,

I can’t worry too much. It’s tough enough.”

His teammates feel the same way, even though they have faith Kiprusoff is an ace in the hole at this time.

“I don’t think we want to put that pressure on him,” said captain Jarome Iginla, who knows a thing or two about being under the gun. “He’s Miikka. He’s great. He’s one of the top goalies in the game, but he’s part of our team. It’s just the same up front. It’s not one guy that has to score goals.

“I think it relieves pressure on us because we’re finding goals all different ways, and it relieves pressure on Miikka. He doesn’t have to go into a game thinking, ‘I have to steal this 1-0.’ We can all go and try to play well.

“He’s been great, been great a long time, and a strength on our team, but we’re not going to try to only win games 1-0.

“He can just be Miikka.”

For the next while, he’ll be a workhorse.


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