'Tender psyche

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 5:18 PM ET


 Dan's the man during the regular season, no doubt. But during the playoffs, it's another story -- and a short one at that.

 Vancouver Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier has posted 30-plus wins for two consecutive years and a steady 2.27 GAA this season, his best NHL campaign.

 But during the pressure-packed playoffs, the Mont-Laurier, Que., product has been riddled with question marks and goals, while his Canucks have been sent home for the summer far sooner than expected.

 Last spring, his playoff GAA ballooned to 3.24 while his save percentage plummeted to .868 as the Canucks were dispatched from the second round by the upstart Minnesota Wild.

 In the process, Cloutier allowed 15 pucks to elude him on just 60 shots as the Wild rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to bounce Vancouver in seven games.

 The second-guessing started in 2002 after a Nicklas Lidstom slapshot from another time zone handcuffed the flabbergasted keeper en route to a six-game series loss to Detroit.

 Now the Flames hope it's their turn to rattle Cloutier with an early goal or excessive crease congestion.

 "He's an emotional guy ... We've got to get in the crease, create traffic, try to throw him off his game," says Flames centre Craig Conroy.

 "We have to go in there and try to get him off his game and he's going to try to stay composed. We have to do whatever it takes to get some screens.

 "It's good having (Chris) Simon's big body lead the way with his big body."

 Left-winger Martin Gelinas agrees traffic in front of Cloutier and a steady stream of rubber is the formula for upsetting the Canuck.

 "He's a good goaltender and we'll have to get in his face and throw a lot of pucks at him," Gelinas says.

 Goaltending at the other end of the ice could be the focus of the series, too, as Miikka Kiprusoff tries to extend his regular-season magic into the playoffs.

 "This guy's been really good all year when he's been counted on and we expect the same out of him in the playoffs," says Flames defenceman Denis Gauthier, who'll make his post-season debut tomorrow night in Game 1. "We're expecting big things out of him like we have all year and I don't think he'll change."


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