Team stands behind Kipper

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:35 PM ET


 TAMPA -- Miikka Kiprusoff didn't show up for post-game interviews.

 But for two months straight, the Finnish puckstopper took centre stage for the Calgary Flames.

 If not for Kiprusoff, by everyone's account, the team that shocked three Western Conference division winners over the past eight weeks might not have even earned a playoff berth.

 "We wouldn't have been here without him, he means that much to us," nodded defenceman Steve Montador.

 Kiprusoff's five playoff shutouts this spring is third-best in Stanley Cup history while his stats through 26 post-season games are staggering.

 Entering last night's 2-1 Game 7 loss in Tampa, Kiprusoff posted an 8-2 record and a 1.23 GAA with a .950 save percentage in starts following a loss.

 "I'm proud of the evolution, the change of Miikka Kiprusoff," offered goaltending coach David Marcoux.

 "We knew he had a lot of skill and a lot mental toughness and a great attitude. When you have that combination, it's great to work with. He's evolved as a goaltender, he's matured as a top-rank NHL goaltender."

 After being acquired from San Jose in a November trade, Kiprusoff won 24 of 38 regular season starts, posting four shutouts and a modern-day record 1.69 GAA.

 Although the Flames entered the season with veteran Roman Turek as the starter, Kiprusoff clearly won the job over the course of the year.

 After an amazing playoff run that vaulted the Flames into the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 15 seasons, the team's goaltending future is in his hands, too.

 "You need the goaltender, you need the big saves, the great starts in series," Marcoux said.

 "If you look at the great starts in San Jose (in the conference final) and the great start we had in Game 1 here, he's a huge part of this hockey club and he's a huge part of the future of this hockey club."

 Despite Kiprusoff's play in the final, Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was his equal in the seven game series.

 In Tampa's crucial 3-2 overtime win in Game 6, the Russian turned aside seven Flames shots in overtime as Calgary lost its chance to claim the Stanley Cup at home.


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