'Kipper' the latest demon Joseph, Red Wings must exorcise

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:17 AM ET

 The parallels were eerie. Curtis Joseph standing in the same place amid the same reporters answering the same questions in the same clipped manner a year after the deluge.

 Thursday was only the Detroit Red Wings first game of their series against the Calgary Flames, but the parallels we are unmistakable. The high-flying cast of hall of famers were brought to earth by goaltending and elbowed aside in a hurry last spring.

  All that could change today, when the teams meet again in a Joe Louis Arena matinee. Still, after Calgary goaltender Miika Kiprusoff's boffo performance to open the series with a 2-1 overtime win, comparisons to last season are unavoidable.

 Then, Joseph was forced to comment on the work of Jean-Sebastien Giguere. This time, it's the guy teammates call Kipper.

 "He was real solid, played real well and made some big saves," Joseph said tersely after the opener.

 Nowhere in the goalie's handbook is a chapter devoted to flowery critiques of guys who just knocked you on your can. Especially when there's a rich helping of deja vu associated with it.

 Like Giguere did a year ago, Kiprusoff faced a withering barrage of shots. Until he came back to Earth this season, Giguere was in a zone all the way to the seventh game of the final against New Jersey.

 There is some question whether Kiprusoff has the same magic, his opening round against Vancouver having featured a few blips. This time, the Wings are in the second round, not sidelined so ignominiously in straight sets in the opener.

 But the guy didn't get in on a free ticket, not after passing the full-season exam that saw him cough up two or fewer goals in 37 of his 45 starts and compile a .933 save percentage to make the short list of Vezina Trophy candidates.

 Not bad for a Finn that San Jose gave up for, well, not much more than a fin.

 It's not that surprising Calgary got him for a conditional draft pick. San Jose's fifth-round pick in 1995, until this season, Kiprusoff's resume did not suggest a lot of goaltender records are in danger.

 Belief goes a long way, however, and this guy has it from coach Darryl Sutter and his teammates. Their own timely tying goal and overtime effort aside, they all know their goaltender won the game.

 Things are not so rosy at the other end. Joseph conceded goals that would have beaten almost anybody, but he has yet to erase question marks placed only partly on him because of his injury-enforced (ankle) lack of action the last couple of months.

 One school of thought places last season's flopperoo solely at Joseph's doorstep. Another says Detroit forwards unable to solve Giguere didn't give their goalie enough to work with. Management responsible to an owner for an enormous payroll conveniently fingered the guy in goal.

 That's all history. It's a 27-year-old Kiprusoff in the middle of a hot run against a guy turning 37 next week who has played only a handful of games in the last couple of months.

 For the Red Wings, the onus clearly is on the attack to produce more than a goal a game. That's why they pay these guys ransoms and it doesn't matter whether it's Terry Sawchuk or Patrick Roy between the pipes, it's up to them to create their own magic, the kind only Robert Lang has demonstrated so far.

 After Thursday's first-period onslaught, the game began to shift imperceptibly Calgary's way and with it, the pressure shifted, too.

 The Wings simply cannot head for Calgary down two games.

 The Flames don't have to win one for the Kipper. He's been looking after that himself.


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