SAN JOSE — Mike Keenan was hired to help the Flames win big games.
Last night, he contributed heavily to them losing one.
And suddenly, following an admirable playoff performance that appeared to have solidified the coach's future with the Flames, the man with two years left on his deal has clouded things a touch.
When it mattered most, he panicked.
If he was a player, we'd say he choked.
His crime? Interference.
With the Flames on their heels and the San Jose Sharks having just gone up 4-2 late in the second period of
Game 7, Captain Hook saw wisdom in yanking the Flames best player.
Having kept the team in the game to that point with 26 saves and representing the best chance his club had of coming back, Miikka Kiprusoff was pulled.
In came 40-year-old Curtis Joseph in the lamest attempt possible to shake up the team.
If the immediate feeling on the bench wasn't that the series and the season was all but over, it surely was 52 seconds later when the second shot Joseph faced — a low, weak snapper by Taber's Devin Setoguchi — made it 5-2.
Sure, it worked magically in Game 3 when Joseph came in to save the day as part of an historic four-goal comeback win. That was a move of desperation following three questionable goals in three minutes.
Fact is, this game was still winnable.
But not after a stone-cold Cujo was thrown into the fire and responded accordingly.
No one is blaming the backup goalie in the 5-3 loss — he played well after settling in. It's just that in the biggest game of the year, your starter — especially one of Kiprusoff's ilk — needs to be in the net unless he's struggling mightily.
Thing is, he was the Flames best player to that point by far.
While some may categorize Jeremy Roenick's first goal as questionable — it trickled through Kiprusoff's pads as he was completely screened by Devin Setoguchi — none of the other goals were his fault.
They were the product of a relentless forecheck that had the Flames on their heels for all but about five minutes of the evening. (Whether that is the product of an uninspiring coach, too, is a debate for tomorrow perhaps).
Famous for these type of look-at-me antics, Keenan made the move to try injecting life into the team.
Predictably, it had the opposite effect.
It also leaves a bad taste in Kiprusoff's mouth all summer long — not what you want for your franchise 'keeper.
Showing tremendous character in the third to close the gap to 5-3, the players did their best to overcome the coach's over-zealousness.
It was futile. The season is over.
An otherwise brilliantly played and coached seven-game set was decided in part by Keenan and in part by a swarming Sharks club that proved just too deep.
So, Jeremy Roenick is painted the hero with four points, Ron Wilson looks like a genius for resting the veteran for the big game and the Flames lose once again in the first round.
Last year, such indignity cost Jim Playfair his head coaching job.
No one is suggesting similar punishment for Keenan.
But as GM Darryl Sutter undergoes his evaluation process, a big-game gaffe like this one can't be overlooked.