SOS! Save our season

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

On the eve of the Calgary Flames-Chicago Blackhawks playoff series, the goaltender in the spotlight was Nikolai Khabibulin.

Moreover, it was the domination of the Flames he's had over his career.

Right now, the netminder under the microscope is Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff.

Kiprusoff's team needs him to shine amidst all that scrutiny or else yet another season will come to a crushing and disappointing end.

He owes them it, too.

The list of problems facing the Flames these days is long.

We have the health issues of the blueliners -- namely Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr -- and a handful of forwards.

And the missing production or maddeningly inconsistent play of the offensive catalysts like Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Daymond Langkow, Todd Bertuzzi and Michael Cammalleri.

But heading into tonight's Game 6 against the Blackhawks, it's high time Kiprusoff brought his best game.

Maybe even steal a win.

Because he hasn't done it yet through this opening-round affair.

In fact, he's provided nothing close to the level of goaltending needed to win an NHL playoff series.

In the first two games of the best-of-seven series, the Flames had leads, but Kiprusoff wasn't able to shut the door and they ended up losses.

Game 3 did see a strong third period, but a pair of goals by the Flames in the opening minutes of the final frame staked Calgary to a three-goal edge that was too much for Chicago to erase.

Game 4 was won by Calgary in spite of their netminder. This time, Kiprusoff couldn't hold a three-goal edge and was bailed out by a strong effort from his teammates in the final frame. He only faced one or two quality chances as time ticked down.

And Game 5? Well, that was a debacle of monumental proportions.

Three goals allowed in 109 seconds in the middle of the first period, and -- nearly as bad -- a fourth surrendered only a few minutes after Dustin Boyd put the Flames on the board to make it a 3-1 affair.

Not good enough.

Not for a netminder whose salary this season is US$8.5 million.

Not for a netminder who won a Vezina Trophy, set a modern-day record for goals-against average and backstopped a team to the seventh game of 2004 Stanley Cup final.

Not for a Flames team that had such high hopes.

Kiprusoff's 3.62 goals-against average and .893 save percentage just won't cut it.

Chicago is loaded with talented, young, speedy and exuberant skaters who know how to put the puck in the net.

Meanwhile, the Flames -- who aren't as good defensively as they should -- are behind the eight-ball without Regehr and Mark Giordano and now Phaneuf limping.

Which is why Kiprusoff needs to be front and centre.

What we should expect tonight is a motivated team in front of Kiprusoff. Expect a push from the Blackhawks, too.

It's happened nearly every game, and too often Chicago has scored goals in bunches.

As time is ticking down on the Flames' playoff run, the player who can most save the day is Kiprusoff.

It's time for him to prove he's the man for the job in these tough times.


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