It’s a great morale boost for our locker room to see him in the game and obviously he made some huge saves for us. It’s great to see him back. - Blake Comeau
CALGARY, AB -- He’s been the last line for the better part of a decade.
His 300th win in a Calgary Flames jersey is clearly evidence of that.
But No. 300 didn’t come without a little extra significance for franchise face Miikka Kiprusoff. It came in his first game after missing a baker’s dozen with a sprained knee ligament – his longest absence as a member of the Flames since missing 19 in the early stages of 2004.
Kicking aside 32 shots in Calgary’s 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, Kiprusoff punctuated his return by turning his best performance of the season.
“He didn’t seem to miss a beat,” Chris Butler said. “He was phenomenal, making saves that not many goaltenders make.”
Including a dandy off a one-timer off the stick of sniper Patrick Marleau with three minutes remaining in the game, kicking out his left pad with little effort to put the exclamation mark on the victory.
In fact, Kiprusoff’s only blemish came courtesy the Joes, with Joe Pavelski feeding Joe Thornton for a virtual tap-in on the doorstep midway through the game. It was one he could hardly be faulted on.
And even if Kiprusoff did feel a little guilty for letting one creep over the goal line, he recovered with 17 third period saves to sink the Sharks’ hopes.
The performance was no big deal to the soft-spoken Finnish netminder.
“I tried to do everything the same thing I always do and not think about it too much,” Kiprusoff said. “Just get ready and when the game starts, it’s pretty simple: keep my eye on the puck and try to stop everything.”
Blake Comeau, whose first of the season stood up as the winner in Kiprusoff’s 300th, was a little more animated in his review.
“He was huge. It was great to see him back,” Comeau said. “With a player that plays as well consistently as he does, he’s obviously a big boost for our hockey club. It’s a great morale boost for our locker room to see him in the game and obviously he made some huge saves for us. It’s great to see him back.”
Perhaps no one was happier to see the goalie back in the crease than coach Bob Hartley, whose trio of Leland Irving, Daniel Taylor and Joey MacDonald paced Calgary to a respectable 6-5-2 record in Kiprusoff’s absence.
“I felt that [Kiprusoff] was solid right from the get-go,” Hartley said. “He was seeing all the pucks and that’s such a good feeling for guys on the bench, for coaches, and probably for fans.”
Their feelings likely pale in comparison to those inside the 36-year-old goaltender, though his poker face wouldn’t give any hints to support the notion.
Besides, playing is a lot better than the alternative.
“Watching games on the bike back there is not my thing,” Kiprusoff said, motioning to the workout room 20 feet from his dressing room stall.
“I had my time to get ready for this game and I’ve been working pretty hard. Because other goalies played so well here, I had time here to get really ready. They didn’t want to push me and take the chance that I get hurt again.”
Instead, the return of a healthy Kiprusoff only helps the chances of the Flames’ playoff aspirations.
As it has for the last eight seasons as Calgary’s last line of defense.