The Kipper wall

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

CALGARY -- He got the accolades before the puck dropped and he made the difference once it did.

Miikka Kiprusoff, as he's prone to do, came up big when the Calgary Flames needed him most, making 21 saves as the Flames beat the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in their home-opener at the Pengrowth Saddledome last night, earning a split in the first home-and-home series in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta.

BIGGER THAN BIG

That, given what's expected to be a knock-down-drag-'em-out fight in the Northwest Division, is bigger than big - even with 80 games left to play.

"We've got to expect that from him, really," said Joffrey Lupul, who scored the Oilers' lone goal but was denied a chance to tie it by Kiprusoff in the final minute.

"He's pretty much the best in the game, top-three for sure. He's going to make big saves. That one at the end was big. I didn't get much on it, but it was going right under the bar."

Yes, it's early, but having dropped a 3-1 decision Thursday at Rexall Place, the Flames didn't want to lose the first two games of eight in the season series with the Oilers and fall four points back of their provincial rivals right out of the blocks.

Kiprusoff, who was honoured as the Vezina Trophy and William Jennings Trophy winner in a pre-game ceremony, didn't let it happen.

"He's a great goalie. He's quick," said Hemsky, who was thwarted by the stingy stopper in the second period, not long before Marcus Nilson notched the winner.

WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE...

"It's just two games, but it would have been good to get them both. We'll regroup and get ready for the next game."

Up 1-0 after Lupul coaxed a rebound behind Kiprusoff on Edmonton's first power play, the Oilers couldn't get out of the first period ahead - Stephane Yelle fooled Dwayne Roloson with a re-direction of Jeff Friesen's pass with eight ticks left in the period.

Parading to the penalty box and on their heels for the first 11 minutes of the second period, the Oilers leaned on Roloson until they got a 5-on-3 power play chance of their own. They didn't even take a decent run at Kiprusoff, and it cost them.

Not long after is when Kiprusoff did his best work, stealing what looked like a sure goal off the stick of Hemsky with two minutes left in the period, setting the stage for Nilson to bang a rebound past Roloson for the winner at 19:12. Kipper added an exclamation mark by stiffing Lupul to preserve the win.

Just like that, even up in the standings instead of four points back. Big swing.

"Last year, we ended up beating them in the season series," said Jarome Iginla.

"You think that if you could flip a few of those games, being four-point games, it makes a huge difference in the standings later on. It's hard to think of that early, but there they are four-point games. It is important."

Around the rink...

Craig MacTavish stayed with the same lineup he iced in Edmonton Thursday, making rookies Alexei Mikhnov, J.F. Jacques and Jan Hejda his scratches.


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