SAN JOSE - As a team fighting for its playoff life, the Calgary Flames will have plenty of motivation Wednesday night against the San Jose Sharks. But the Flames should have an extra boost with goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff going for his 300th career victory -- against his former team.
The Sharks took Kiprusoff with the 116th pick in the 1995 NHL Draft. But with an overload of talent in goal, they traded him to Calgary in November 2003 for a 2005 second-rounder they used to draft defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
"It would be huge," said Calgary defenseman Scott Hannan, a former Shark. "He's a great goalie. Everybody knows what he's done for the franchise and how special a player this year he's been for us. He's been huge in every game that we've needed him to be in. He gives us a chance every night, which is more than you can ask of a goalie. To get him a win here would be great."
Kiprusoff has a career record of 299-194-62 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. This year he's 23-17-4 with a 2.29 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
"He's a hell of a goaltender," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after his team's optional skate Wednesday morning at HP Pavilion. "Fans, not only in San Jose early in his career, but obviously in Calgary for most of it, appreciate his talent and what he brings to the rink every night. I think it's probably fair to say when their players walk into the locker room in Calgary and see his number or name circled, they get a pretty good feeling. And that's a true sign of a goaltender that can carry a team, and he's been that for many years there."
Kiprusoff is 13-12-3 against the Sharks overall, but he's 0-1-1 this season despite playing well both games. The Sharks beat Kiprusoff and the Flames 2-1 in a shootout at HP Pavilion then 1-0 at Calgary.
San Jose's Antti Niemi, a fellow Finn, got both wins, improving to 8-1-0 lifetime against Calgary. Niemi said facing a countryman always gives him an extra dose of motivation.
"Playing Finnish guys, just the veteran goalies who have been in the League for a long time who you remember from a long, long time ago," Niemi said. "So of course you get a little extra energy playing against those guys.''
Based on the past two games, goals should be at a premium Wednesday night. What's more, the Flames have allowed a total of 12 goals over their past seven games as they've turned up the defensive pressure.
"We're certainly playing better defensively that we were earlier," coach Brent Sutter said. "I think it's just more consistent now. It's a commitment that you have to have from every individual inside your dressing room. I understand that guys in the room, or any dressing room, are goal scorers, but when you get into the final third of the season everybody's got to be committed to doing it the right way, back checking like they can and making sure they're doing it the right way in their own zone. You want to have the puck. You've got to be able to play with the puck to win games, and you've got to be able to get it back from your opposition. The only way that happens is by playing a good team game."
Flames forward Blair Jones said the improved defense is "just kind of in direct relation to where we are in the standings and the time" in the season. "It's time to tighten up and start playing good hockey every game. There's no excuses for the next 28, 29 games we have left. It's got to be the same way every night. Just try to pay attention to details and bring a good defensive effort every game."
Sharks forward Ryane Clowe expects another hard-fought, low-scoring game.
"I think if we can get three goals, we've got a good chance. I think we can hold them under three goals," Clowe said. "Lately all their games have been pretty low scoring -- 2-1, 2-0, that sort of game. So if we can put three on the board, I like our chances."
With 55 points, the Flames are in 12th place in the Western Conference standings, but they're just three points behind Minnesota and Phoenix, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. Just as a reminder of how tight the race is and how important each game is, the conference standings were posted in Flames' dressing room at HP on a grease board.
"It's a learning curve from the start of the season until now," Hannan said. "At times in games when we've lost it's been that little mental break. That's just something to reaffirm in our minds how important every shift is, how important every play is in the game. You never know what's going to break the other team or in essence break you in that game. I think that's just a reminder of how important that is."
The Flames won't have defenseman Derek Smith against San Jose - he's still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Dec. 29 against the Islanders - but Calgary locked him up for the next two seasons Wednesday with a new deal worth $1.5 million.
Smith initially signed this season with the Flames as a free agent after playing nine games with Ottawa and 71 games with Binghamton of the AHL last season.
"He's a 27-year-old player that came to training camp wanting an opportunity, and he earned that throughout camp," Sutter said. "He came in and did everything we wanted from him. He just has grown. You look at it, when he got hurt he was arguably our best defenseman at that point in time. We've missed him, but it's good both from an organizational standpoint and his standpoint that they can get something worked out. It's a commitment made by both sides and it's great to see that Smitty can be a Calgary Flame for the next two years and not worry about losing him because he is an important part of our defense."
Smith, who did not travel with the team on its road trip, has two goals and eight assists in 32 games this season.
"Derek came to training camp this year on a two-way contract and played his way into our starting lineup," GM Jay Feaster said in a statement. "When Mark Giordano went down with his hamstring injury, Smitty stepped up and shouldered an increased workload and did so in excellent fashion."
T.J. Brodie - Cory Sarich
Joe Pavelski will play his 400th NHL game Wednesday night, all as a Shark. McLellan hinted that he was going to shuffle his lines. Andrew Desjardins will likely move from first-line winger to fourth-line center, where he's spent most of the season. Benn Ferriero will likely return to the top line. One day after announcing his retirement, Owen Nolan will drop the puck during a pre-game ceremony. Nolan played for both San Jose and Calgary during his 18 NHL seasons.
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When somebody goes out and is there to score goals, but is also there to make some big hits, fight, do all of those things, and he has a great mustache, it was great to see him get that hit and get everybody going.