Johnson: Kiprusoff pulls out his superhero cape to save Flames
Calgary had no business winning against the Wings, but veteran goalie kept sluggish squad in it early until they found their legs
Shots after a period: 15-6, Detroit. After two, 27-11.
How in the name of sweet creation the Calgary Flames were, respectively, ahead a goal and then tied defied reason. Like Stonehenge, Area 51 or crop circles, not fully explainable.
Well, yes, there was one perfectly good rationalization for all the mysterious goings-on:
This is not someone to be doubted or dissed.
Yes, Kiprusoff had looked mighty chuffed to be stapled to the end of the bench Monday at L.A., reduced to jotting notes on a clipboard, like some random third-string quarterback.
The startling snub in SoCal threatened to mutate into a full-blown maelstrom when coach Bob Hartley declined to make an immediate call on his starter against the Wings in the wake of a 3-1 loss. Suddenly, Kiprusoff’s mere participation had become a story.
For so long, his name on the Flames’ lineup card has been as automatic as Cal Ripken Jr.’s was in Baltimore.
If there was any, even half-serious consideration to sitting him a second straight game, the idea now sounds beyond ludicrous.
“Of course, it’s not fun,” said Kiprusoff, the soul of political correctness after a 36-stop night had proven decisive in a 5-2 victory over the Red Wings. “But we have another good goalie here in Mac (Joey MacDonald), but I always come to the games ready to play like it’s your last.”
He certainly played as if he had a point to prove. And maybe that was the intention in the first place. Who knows?
“He’s been on the of the best goalies in the world for the last 10 years,” said defenceman Jay Bouwmeester. “The best goalies have a different attitude. It’s a tough position, you make a mistake, it’s in the net.
“We’re never surprised what Kipper does. Ever.
“No one doubts him for a second. You don’t even think about it.”
Until the Flames began making mincemeat of the leaky Jonas Gustavsson — No. 1 man Jimmy Howard was down with flu, and not even on the bench — in the third period, it was all Kiprusoff.
There were more white jerseys packed around the Calgary crease than Catholic disciples flooding into St. Peter’s Square after the white smoke went up in Rome earlier in the day. Or seemed to be, anyway.
The Mule, Johan Franzen, providing a screen capable of blocking out the sun. Pavel Datsyuk diving in and out of the shadows, looking for a pocket to pick. Captain Henrik Zetterberg using that justly famous 20-mule-team strength, holding off defencemen to hold tight to the puck and make a play towards the net. Valtteri Filppula lurking, forever lurking, for a juicy leftover to present itself.
Datsyuk, in particular, was full of lethal mischief. Every time he touched the puck, the mesmerized Flames were holding onto the seat of their britches in abject terror.
“It wasn’t our best first period,” adjudged Kiprusoff graciously. “But sometimes it’s like that . . . that you’re able to come with a lead after that was nice. After that we played better and a pretty smart third.”
Niklas Kronwall wired a shot for Detroit’s first goal, at 3:20 of the opening period, and the second came via Filppula after a surge of Red Wing power play pressure — Filppula having just made a post sing and Zetterberg sizzling a shot off Kiprusoff’s left shoulder.
Other than that, despite long stretches of territorial dominance and plenty of shots, they were held gallantly at bay.
Franzen and Zetterberg, victimized six times. Apiece.
Filppula, Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist each turned back three times. Every Detroit player except Dan Cleary and centre Joakim Andersson — goaltenders notwithstanding — had at least one crack.
“He played well,” praised Kronwall. “A great goaltender. One of the best in the league. He’s proved it year after year. But that’s no excuse. We have to find a way to get through that. He’s a quick guy. But I thought we had a lot of shots on him.
“We had some great second opportunities, we just couldn’t find a way to get it in.”
No, Kiprusoff had double-locked/dead-bolted the door and jammed a chair under the knob.
“If everyone is leaving the Scotiabank Saddledome with a smile, it’s because of Kipper,” lauded Hartley. “In the first period, our legs were still on the plane from our California trip, but in the second we got more life and more jump.
“We were hoping for a quick start. I don’t know if it’s a fact or an excuse, but after those long trips it’s tough to get going at home. In the first period, it was only the Wings. I don’t think we needed two Zambonis to clean the ice. Just one end would’ve been plenty.
“But, hey, we still had a 2-1 lead. And it was all about Kipper. Obviously when your goalie gives you saves like this it keeps you in the game, it gives you confidence.”
The kind of confidence Kiprusoff instils is something that’s earned game by game, highlight-reel save by highlight-reel save, miracle by miracle, over years.
“Without him,” summed up Bouwmeester, “if might’ve been a different game. It’s ...”
A helpless shrug, as if the phenomenon had gone far beyond any sort of logical explanation.
“It’s kinda . . . what he does.”
Yes. It is.
This is not someone to be doubted or dissed.
No. 34 between the pipes virtually every night from here on in remains the best — no, the ONLY — hope of salvation.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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