Vintage Kiprusoff performance — with one minor blip — enough for Flames to clip Wings
Calgary’s 3-2 victory throws a wrench into Detroit’s plans of extending 21-year playoff streak
The glove shot up, in the blink of an eye, like Superman catching a silver bullet between his fingers or Brooks Robinson moving effortlessly to snare a liner down the third-base line.
Just in the nick of time.
Just like old times.
“Yeah, it felt good,” admitted Miikka Kiprusoff. “Especially after I made it . . . a little more interesting at the end there.”
That spectacular save off Detroit defenceman Jakob Kindl, with 16.6 seconds remaining, the Red Wings’ net empty and Curtis Glencross taking up space in the penalty box, saved the day in a 3-2 Calgary victory that leaves Detroit’s precarious playoff hopes still hanging in the balance.
On a night the Flames were officially eliminated from post-season contention — as if there was any doubt — Kiprusoff was in vintage form, in what may very well be his second-last appearance as a Calgary Flame at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Inside the Flames’ dressing room afterwards, as the man of the hour walked through unnoticed as media crowded around two-goal hero Steve Begin, Kiprusoff spotted a kid wearing a red No. 34 jersey and a Kipper ball cap.
“Good job, Kipper,” the kid said.
Mere minutes earlier, 19,000 plus had engaged in a vaster, more public show of affection, standing up to salute the finest goaltender this franchise has ever seen for the kind of jaw-dropping performance that’s become his custom here over the last decade.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Kiprusoff. “I think the crowd has been great for me since I came here and again tonight was a pretty nice feeling in front of them.
“It means a lot.”
For the Wings, a crushing loss that, coupled with Columbus’ win, plunged Detroit into ninth in the Western Conference.
“Well, I don’t pull out any tricks,” said boss Mike Babcock when asked what rabbits he could yank from a hat after a game in which the urgency level was left far too late. “I deal in realism and facts. And the facts speak pretty clear that this is an urgent moment for us. You’ve got to win your way in. You can’t watch your way in.”
Too little early push and too much Kiprusoff. That recipe spelled disaster for the Wings.
Outside of that crazy Johan Franzen backhander from just across centre that skipped behind him at 12:53 of the third period (that “interesting” moment Kiprusoff mentioned earlier), the silent Finn was exemplary to sensational. He has, of course, become accustomed to battening down the hatches when confronted by the relentless tempest the Red Wings can conjure up.
He withstood another storm Wednesday, 36 saves in all.
“They’re always a pretty smart road team. And there’s always traffic. It’s always tough against them.”’
With his future as a Calgary Flame very much the topic of conversation, the 36-year-old franchise puck-stopper made Wednesday a night to remember. Friday he starts again, against the Anaheim Ducks.
“I’m aware of that (the speculation). I’m not gonna lie. With everything that’s going on. I haven’t played in a few games, and I haven’t win lately, so I was (motivated) by that, too.”
In a strange evening, the Wings gifted Calgary the decisive two goals in the third period. Wings’ ‘keeper Jimmy Howard and defensive pal Jonathan Eriksson getting their wires crossed, each leaving the puck for the other, allowing veteran campaigner Steve Begin to nip in, tap the puck off the goalie’s right skate and in a mere 2:20 into the third period to give Calgary a 2-1 lead.
Mighty embarrassing stuff, to put it mildly.
Then, with just under eight minutes left, going back to collect a dump-in, Howard lost control of the puck behind his cage, allowing that imp Begin to collect and cash a wraparound into a wide-open net.
More mighty embarrassing stuff, to put it mildly.
“I made a mistake on the third one, simple as that,” lamented Howard. He looked down at his hands and wiggled them: “Last time I checked, I’m human. And that was a tough one tonight because it was a game winner. (The second one) is an unfortunate break. Nobody’s fault. Big E said it handcuffed him a little bit. And the third one? A total mistake by me.”
“It’s a tough thing to swallow. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’ve got to forget about this.”
For Begin, meanwhile, one to remember. Two, actually.
“Guys think I made a deal with the goalie on the other side,” he joked. “But I didn’t. Just lucky bounces. I don’t know what to say.”
While Howard was imploding, Kiprusoff was just warming up, Franzen swinging around the net and with Justin Abdelkader virtually sitting in his lap Kiprusoff denies Pavel Datsyuk, mighty quiet on the evening up that point, with his left pad.
Later, with the Wings handed a power play for too many Flames inhabiting the ice surface, Kiprusoff denies Datsyuk again, this time from a sharp angle, via the blocker. Then, with Detroit piling on the pressure, he throws himself across the crease to get an arm on a Henrik Zetterberg shot that had back-of-the-net written all over it.
“We couldn’t get more pucks behind Kipper,” sighed Zetterberg. “He made some key saves. He was real good tonight. He’s a real good goalie — one of the best goalies we’ve had in this league. He showed that again tonight. When he’s hot, he’s really making key saves.
“Of course, it’s frustrating to be on the other side.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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