Johan who?

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:10 PM ET


 All the talk before the game revolved around Johan Hedberg.

 His playoff magic, his stickhandling ability, his poise under pressure ...

 Somewhere along the line, someone forgot to mention one other pertinent tidbit about the Moose. He's, um, a backup.

 The Flames exposed him as such last night with three goals in the second period and an empty-netter in the third to win 4-0 and knot the best-of-seven quarter-final series 2-2.

 Hedberg's poor outing allowed the spotlight to return to the man who originally entered the series as the showdown's most pivotal player -- Miikka Kiprusoff.

 Standing tall through a scoreless first period, the Flames goaltender continued the dominance he displayed throughout the regular season, steadying the hosts through eight short-handed situations, drawing three goaltender interference penalties and blocking all

 20 Vancouver shots for his first career playoff shutout.

 So good was the Finnish netminder, he did what no other Flame had been able to do since Game 1 -- he jumpstarted a dormant Flames powerplay, garnering an assist for setting up the biggest goal of the game.

 "He's got more points than I do now," laughed Andrew Ference, an integral part of a defensive corps that made Kiprusoff's job looking relatively easy most of the evening.

 "I'm sure I'll hear about it."

 Indeed, Kiprusoff's biggest influence on the game came late in the second period with his club struggling as usual to make the powerplay click.

 While corralling a Canucks dump-in, he noticed the visitors making a wholesale line change and immediately rifled the puck up ice to Denis Gauthier.

 The defenceman shovelled it to Chris Clark at the opposition's blueline, where he took advantage of the extra space, streaked down the right wing and rifled a shot high short-side on Hedberg as the netminder crumpled early.

 It gave the Flames a 2-0 lead and a spark that led to a Shean Donovan game-sealer 27 seconds later.

 "Denis was yelling for me and I saw they were trying to change -- it was the second period, so I saw they had a long way to go (to the bench)," said Kiprusoff, who was presented with the game puck by Chuck Kobasew following the Flames' first playoff shutout since 1995.

 "I don't practise it too much but sometimes it's open."

 Responding well to being an obvious target for a frustrated Canucks squad, Kiprusoff shrugged off goal-crease bumps by Brendan Morrison and Brad May before a late collision with Bryan Allen prompted him to show rare emotion by subtly kicking Allen's discarded helmet. Seconds earlier, Kiprusoff gave 19,289 rabid fans a scare by getting up slowly.

 "Today, the referees gave penalties for (goalie interference)," said Kiprusoff, who has rebounded well from Game 1 when he was unable to fight through crowds to locate several shots from the point.

 "If they are ready to take those penalties, that's OK."

 At the other end of the ice, frustration set in for Kiprusoff's former Kentucky teammate, as Hedberg had to be restrained by a linesman when he chased an official in protest following the Flames' crease-crashing third goal.

 The last Flames goaltender to record playoff perfection was Trevor Kidd, who blanked San Jose nine years ago. Jeff Reese did it in 1993.

 While Game 5 is set for Vancouver tomorrow, Kiprusoff's effort ensured the club will return to Calgary for Game 6 Saturday.

 In either game, you can bet the spotlight won't stray far from him again.


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