Kipper the key

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:34 PM ET


 DETROIT -- The headline in Sports Illustrated's NHL playoff preview suggests in big, bold letters: Someone's Going to be Upset.

 Next to it, there is a full-page action photo of Miikka Kiprusoff.

 No one else -- just Miikka.

 Not that SI is known for its hockey coverage but the April 12 edition may have provided a fitting glimpse of the storyline that could play itself out when the top-seeded Red Wings open the second round against the Flames tonight at The Joe.

 As brilliant as Jarome Iginla has been and as talented as Detroit is, this series will be all about goaltending.

 And that's why the Flames have more than just a flicker of hope.

 As the hockey world saw last year when the Wings were dinged four straight by Anaheim, a hot goaltender can neutralize the Hall-of-Fame firepower Dave Lewis has stockpiled throughout his lineup.

 Stopping bullets at a mind-numbing .965 clip, eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner J-S Giguere limited the Wings' high-octane offence to six goals on 171 shots.

 Not once did the defending Cup champs score more than twice in a game.

 Granted, modern-day hockey had never before seen the type of heroics Giguere provided. However, if there's a man alive capable of limiting the damage in similar fashion, it's Kipper.

 Establishing a modern-day record of 1.69 goals-against during the regular season, Kiprusoff held opponents to two goals or less in 32 of his 38 outings.

 The Vezina Trophy nominee pulled off the same trick in five of the seven first-round games against Vancouver, stealing two games all by himself following two rare sub-par performances.

 In his first of two appearances against Detroit this season, he allowed two goals on 22 shots but was victimized by a stellar 33-save effort from game star Manny Legace in a 2-1 loss.

 (That's called a Reverse Kipper.)

 In his second start, he made

 25 saves in a 4-1 win despite the fact the Flames were outshot

 10-1 in the first period.

 Undaunted by anything, let alone the firepower Detroit will throw at him, Kiprusoff could very well provide the type of backbone his club would need to continue the magical post-season that has Calgary jumpin'.

 The Flames' major concern stems from injuries and the impact their lack of depth will have against a team that can roll four incredible units over the boards all night.

 It begs questions as to whether Darryl Sutter's battered bunch can continue to use speed and physical play as their biggest weapons.

 Obviously, hoping to keep the games low-scoring as Anaheim did, the Flames' air-tight defensive system will be put to the test without the likes of Denis Gauthier and Toni Lydman on board.

 Again, the great equalizer in all this can be Kiprusoff, who proved in the first round his regular season was no fluke.

 At the other end of the ice, Curtis Joseph will also provide an intriguing storyline as the former third-stringer tries once again to prove he's capable of winning when it matters most. Last year, he was good (2.08 GAA) but not good enough to outplay Giguere.

 The Flames enter the series with momentum, the better coach, the better goalie, the best player in the league and a tried-and-true defensive system.

 The Wings counter with the best lineup money can buy, rest, home-ice advantage, a box load of Stanley Cup rings, sickening depth and expectations of winning their second Cup in three years.

 Nashville's Tomas Vokoun, of all people, demonstrated in Round 1 hot goaltending could beat the Wings, stealing two games by himself before his tongue started wagging and his luck ran out.

 Speaking perhaps to the clairvoyance of the SI article, not only did it pick Calgary to upset Vancouver, it also quoted Martin Gelinas in a small section about Overtime Momentum.

 Remember, all this was written almost two weeks before he scored his Game 7 winner in extra time.

 So, does Kiprusoff have the staying power to make Sports Illustrated's big shots look like geniuses or will the photo turn out to be a jinx?

 We'll find out shortly after 5:30 p.m.


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