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37 FOR 37: KIP-KIP-HOORAY!

A deal for a little depth between the pipes landed the Flames a superstar

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

The deal, admitted coach/GM Darryl Sutter, was made mostly out of necessity.

Flames' No.-1 Roman Turek had been sidelined indefinitely by a bum knee. Young Dany Sabourin found himself in tough trying to get up to speed to NHL calibre shooters and career caddy Jamie McLennan was on the verge of being burned out.

On the flip side, a 27-year-old largely-unheard-of Finn, Miikka Kiprusoff, had lost a battle in Silicon Valley to Vesa Toskala as back up to San Jose Sharks' starter Evgeni Nabokov.

Reduced to nothing more than a practice goaltender, Kiprusoff was eager to be moved.

And so on Nov. 16, 2003, Sutter dished a conditional draft pick - a second-rounder, as things turned out - in order to plug a hole.

"You know you're not going to play," said Kiprusoff of his San Jose frustrations, "so it's kind of hard mentally.

"It's been a tough five, six weeks or whatever it's been. I knew I was going to get traded at some point, but you never know when and where."

Having seen Kiprusoff's upside during his tenure as Sharks' coach, Calgary's power-broker had an inkling of what the NHL-unproven puck-stopper might add, at least short-term.

But not even in his wildest imagination could he have predicted the return on investment the deal would bring.

In explaining the trade, Sutter, loathe to offload any young talent given Turek's eventual return, said: "I'm doing it because Turek's hurt and because Sabourin wasn't ready to win here and for the long-term picture, too. It's not about Tuesday night. 

"It's about going forward.

"I wasn't interested in bringing in another older goaltender or keeping an unproven kid and not doing what's right for him."

Four nights after the deal, Kiprusoff made his first start of the season, stopping 22 Montreal shots - eight during a lengthy Canadiens' 5-on-3 - in picking up his first regular-season win (of 305 career) as a Flame, 2-1.

"He was huge on that five-minute powerplay," raved Flames' defenceman Rhett Warrener. "Unbelievable."

As the season wore on, his teammates would run short of adjectives.

Kiprusoff would finish his first fling as a Flame winning 24 games while posting an insane 1.69 GAA, propelling them into the post-season for the first time in eight years.

"Kipper," marvelled defenceman Mike Commodore, "is one cool customer. Nothing seems to faze him. I think you could yap at Miikka Kiprusoff all day and not only would he not react, he wouldn't even hear you. He's so focused. That's why you rarely see him give up a bad rebound."

Once in the post-season, the new goaltending ace only became sharper, piggybacking the Flames all the way to the Stanley Cup final. His post-season numbers - 1.85 GAA, five shutouts - were off-the-chart superb.

In order, Calgary eliminated the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and, in the Campbell Conference final, Kiprusoff and Sutter's old employers, San Jose.

"Goalies,'' muttered Sharks' Mike Ricci, "are all weirdos. I'm not going to start guessing what Kipper's thought processes might be. I wouldn't even try …

"But whatever's going on in that head of his, it's working."

The Flames would, as everyone knows, stumble at the final hurdle, losing an agonizing seven-game final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

An opportunity had surely been lost.

But a superstar had arrived.

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