Gotta get to Nabby

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:46 PM ET

 Evgeni Nabokov spent part of last summer kicking out pucks under the critical eye of Vladislav Tretiak at the Soviet legend's goaltending school.

 The way Nabokov is performing during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the San Jose Sharks netminder should be the one offering pointers to the man who inspired him to switch to wearing No. 20.

  Nabokov, a native of Kazakhstan, is impressing this post-season with a 1.34 GAA and .949 save percentage, numbers slightly better than Flames dynamo Miikka Kiprusoff and reminiscent of his Red Army idol.

 The Sharks sensation has drawn raves by holding the high-powered Avalanche to just seven goals through six games, including one shutout in knocking off the Colorado powerhouse in Round 2.

 He also outperformed St. Louis puckstopper Chris Osgood in the playoff opening series, allowing just nine goals as the Blues were sent packing in five games.

 "Nabokov has been good ... it's really the same mentality (as against Detroit)," says Jarome Iginla, the Flames' top playoff producer with 12 points through 13 games.

 "Each team has a great goalie, we haven't faced weak goaltending yet. We know Nabokov is going to be tough. It's about continuing our focus of going to the net, getting pucks on net, get the forecheck going and trying to get as many as we can by him."

 Iginla is sincere in suggesting all four goalies the Flames have fired at so far -- Vancouver's Dan Cloutier, Johan Hedberg and Alex Auld in addition to Detroit's Curtis Joseph -- provided solid tests but, in Round 1 and 2, opposing goaltending was still always a suspected weak link. Cloutier was injured early in Game 3 of the opening round, while a shaky Hedberg was pulled in favour of inexperienced Auld.

 Joseph never played well enough to steal a game for Detroit and lost both Game 5 and 6 by 1-0 scores, the final two performances offering a sneak peek at what Nabokov might provide.

 "We definitely feel like it's going to be a lot of 0-0," suggests Flames centre Craig Conroy.

 "Doesn't mean there won't a lot of action but it might only take one goal, so we have to bear down and play good defence in front of Kipper.

 "Then we have to get traffic in front -- that's where we seem to have the best success because, if he can't see it, he can't stop it. But he still finds way a lot of nights to get it done."

 Nabokov and Kiprusoff both started in only one of the four meetings this season, with the Sharks netminder making 28 saves in a 3-2 win in March.

 In Nabokov's three starts against Calgary this season, he posted a 2.00 GAA, winning twice.

 "You look at him and Kipper and you look at some of the games and he's been unbelievable, really good," points out Conroy.

 "We didn't score a lot of goals on him during the regular season, so that's going to be our challenge to come in there and find ways to be able to beat him and that's what they have to do for us, too."

 "He's playing outstanding," adds Flames winger Ville Nieminen.

 "But we have a pretty good guy here, too. Both are playing outstanding.

 "We did some video work and homework on (Nabokov) but we need to get lots of shots and some traffic in front of him.

 "He's a little bit the same type of goalie as Kipper but he's maybe more of a standup goalie."


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