New life between pipes

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:29 PM ET


 A cheeky Flames fan lofted a beach ball toward Canucks starting goalie Dan Cloutier Sunday night, a taunt insinuating the netminder couldn't stop one, let alone a puck.

 His backup -- Swedish netminder Johan Hedberg -- has also been the target of a harsh volley, although from a source wearing the same colours.

 Last November, Canucks head coach Marc Crawford claimed Hedberg "was terrible" in a 4-3 overtime loss after facing 27 shots in Philadelphia.

 He later apologized for the public tongue-lashing of his goaltender, who has since been thrust into the spotlight of the Canucks' best-of-seven series against the Flames.

 Hedberg will start Game 4 tonight after Cloutier suffered a leg injury in a 2-1 win in Game 3, during which the first-year Canuck was summoned from the bench for the final 40 minutes, allowing just one goal.

 "When you get a chance to play, especially in the playoffs, it's very exciting," pointed out Hedberg, who lost his last five regular-season decisions but shrugs off any suggestion his coach might have lost faith in him this year.

 His confidence in his own skills can be traced back to an unbelievable playoff run with Pittsburgh in 2001 after being called up from the AHL's Manitoba Moose. Hedberg backstopped the Pens to upset wins over Buffalo and Washington that spring, creating a frenzy in Steeltown.

 "It's the most fun I've had in hockey -- ever," recalled Hedberg, 30, who upstaged Dominik Hasek and Olaf Kolzig during those playoffs.

 "I was walking on clouds for a couple of months. It was great, so exciting and so much fun.

 "I learned a lot from that experience. It's a long, long playoff and you can never get too high, never get too low, no matter what happens. You can play a team for seven tough games ... it's a marathon and you have to be prepared for that."

 The Pens didn't qualify for the post-season the following two campaigns before Hedberg was shipped to Vancouver last summer for a 2004 second-round draft pick.

 "With Johan, we liked everything about him," acknowledged Canucks GM Brian Burke, who said he acquired Hedberg for his post-season play and puck-handling ability.

 "I thought he came in (Sunday night) and did a great job. It's tough coming in cold in any game but to come into a (tied) game in the playoffs and play like that, not only stopping the puck but the way he handled the puck and got the pucks behind the net. I think he altered their forecheck and he negated the effectiveness of their powerplay. I thought he was really sharp."

 Hedberg said it's pressure-packed playoff situations like the one he'll face tonight that prompted the Canucks to deal for him.

 "People said the reason I got traded (to Vancouver) was because I had success in the playoffs," Hedberg said. "Now it's my turn to prove it and try to do it again the best I can.

 "It's been a very physical series and they've thrown a lot of bodies in front of the net and inside the crease, so it's a part of the game we have to be very strong at and the goaltenders, too, have to be ready for it, so I'm prepared for that."

 Flames assistant coach Jim Playfair said Hedberg's addition will change the way Calgary attacks the Canucks' zone.

 "He's going to be a factor in that he's like another defenceman back there," Playfair conceded. "There are good goaltenders who do that, it's our responsibility to make sure we find ways to exploit that. It's what makes him a good goaltender, an important part of their team and we have to make sure we keep pucks away from him and hopefully get him to stray out (of his net) perhaps a little farther than he wants to."

 Crawford said yesterday Hedberg should be even better suited to face the Flames tonight now that he knows he's inherited the starting role.

 "It makes him more prepared," Crawford said. "There's a lot of different preparation, I'm sure, knowing you're the starter and knowing that you've got to be ready as a backup."

 Hedberg will likely tend the twine for the foreseeable future as Cloutier flew back to Vancouver yesterday to have his leg examined.


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