Johnson: Kiprusoff’s day-to-day tag should ease the fears of Flames fans somewhat
Still, as much as this team leans on its workhorse goalie, observers will be waiting with bated breath for his return from injury
Breaking News Alert! Miikka Kiprusoff, apparently, will live. His injury diagnosis having been downgraded from crisis to concern.
(And so we now return you to our regularly-scheduled programming ...)
The plaintive wailing, hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing sense of doomsday despair that the “lower-body” ailment suffered by the meal-ticket goaltender on Tuesday in Motor City induced around here the past day and a half or so only serves to reinforce how much, at 36, he continues to matter for the Calgary Flames.
Kiprusoff, it must be said, has been amazingly durable since arriving here nine seasons ago.
Oh, we’ve watched him struggle with weariness occasionally, as the play swung back up ice, using the point on the blade of his stick as a fulcrum, a support, to wearily drag himself upright after repelling yet another fierce barrage. We’ve seen him bumped and shoved, felled (legitimately and theatrically), stunned by rising shots and contort his body in highly-unnatural ways that’d make anyone in the Cirque du Soleil troupe sick with professional envy.
But he always got up, always came back, before.
So Tuesday at The Joe, when Kiprusoff had vanished, was nowhere to be seen, to start the third period, general unease quickly gave way to outright panic. In this town, that kind of news is the crash of ‘29, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast and a strain of the Bubonic Plague all rolled into one.
One day, Calgarians are aware, life will have to go on without Kiprusoff.
Tuesday, they feared “that day” had finally come.
Forty-one games left on the docket, already ground to make up in the playoff chase and speculatively NO Kiprusoff around to plug the leaks? Impossible. Unthinkable.
Why, at the very thought people hereabouts had already inwardly steeled themselves for a fourth consecutive springtime of no playoff hockey.
Well, in the span of 12 hours or so, “that day” they’d long feared has been changed to “day-to-day.”
“It’s good to know,” admitted defenceman Chris Butler. “It is a relief knowing that it’s hopefully going to be something short-term rather long-term, especially with this short and condensed season.”
So Leland Irving, quickly upgraded from Abbotsford leper to Calgary saviour, starts tonight in Columbus and, quite likely, Saturday in Vancouver, too. Danny Taylor of the Heat has been hastily signed on to caddy for the man who caddied for him in the minors, adding a nice touch of irony to all the angst.
Quite honestly, even before the injury, Columbus always seemed the most opportune slot to slide the kid from Barrhead in, anyway. As shockingly poor as Calgary’s record in Ohio may be, the Jackets aren’t the Vancouver Canucks or even the Lidstrom-less Detroit Red Wings. These days, they don’t even have Rick Nash to roll over, rub the sleep from his eyes and turn a game on its ear every now and again.
If ever Kiprusoff was going to get a night off ...
The conspiracy theorists among us will doubtless mutter darkly about a broad-based, orchestrated coverup, convinced that the franchise’s all-time wins leader is dinged far worse than anyone is letting on, hinting that the signing of Taylor coupled with the good news on the No. 34 front is nothing more than a clever ruse to buy some time until GM Jay Feaster can swing a deal for a higher-profile puck-stopper with a few more NHL miles on his odometer.
But on Wednesday morn, there were a few sightings of the silent Finn in the event-level bowels of Nationwide Arena. And, yes, he was reportedly moving about, getting from place to place, without the aid of cane, cast, chair or gurney. Hobbling a bit, but hardly incapacitated.
“Obviously, you’re concerned,” understated Lee Stempniak. “I think you just take Kipper for granted sometimes, how consistent he is, how many games he plays, how durable he is. It’s definitely a bit different not having him back there, but we have a lot of confidence in Leland.
“Hopefully, it’s not too long with Kip being out.”
It can’t be.
No date has been targeted, or even hinted at, for the maestro’s return. The usual no details were provided. “Lower-body” could mean groin, knee or the unlikely event that he’s grown Creature of the Black Lagoon-like webbed feet. But the fact that he hasn’t already hustled back to Calgary, lined up to see a specialist, or worse, is massively encouraging.
“In the second period, I felt some discomfort in the lower-body area,” ‘said’ Kiprusoff, via one of those official club “statements” that make athletes sound as if they’re fresh off a turn doing Shakespeare in the Park. “During the intermission it was decided that I not return to play.
“I really believe that this is a short-term injury and over the next days I’ll work toward being ready as soon as possible.”
In the full understanding that as soon as possible can’t be soon enough.
“Day-to-day”, of course, is as nebulous a prognosis as it gets.
But in this case it sure beats the alternative.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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