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Marvelous Miikka

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames


It's the only way to describe Miikka Kiprusoff, the Calgary Flames workhorse of a net minder. Not just this season, either. Kiprusoff, the flexible, reactive Finnish goaltender has not had a losing season since being acquired for a second round draft pick from the San Jose Sharks in November, 2003. Consider that, in all but his first season with the Flames, he has played in 70 or more games.

That's six straight season of yeoman's duty in the pipes.

"He plays a lot of hockey," said defenceman Mark Giordano. "I think that gets overlooked by us players sometimes. You just expect, every night, he will be at the top of his game."

In most cases, Kiprusoff is at the top of his game. Remember the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004? If the Flames had won the Cup, who would have been your choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy? Kiprusoff or Iginla? As recent as Sunday, when the Flames won 2-1 in Colorado, Kiprusoff was at his hijacking best, literally stealing the game for Calgary with one acrobatic save after another.

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"I think," continued Giordano. "Kipper flies under the radar a little. He has to have a game like he did in Colorado for people to mention him. But, if you watch him every game there are two or three saves, that, realistically, should be goals."

Kiprusoff's victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday marked another plateau for the goaltender. It was win 262 meaning he is now tied with Mike Vernon for most franchise wins. His next win gives him another line in the Flames record book which already includes most shutouts in a season (10), most wins in a season (45), lowest goals against average in a season (1.69), best save percentage (.933) and most career shutouts (37).

"He is obviously the backbone of our team. He has been really consistent and really good," said Giordano.

For a long time, too.

There is a phrase often used in hockey: mental toughness. It's something Kiprusoff certainly has. Sure, he has a bad period, maybe a bad game, the odd goal he would want back. But not very often. And, when he does have a rough go, he certainly bounces right back.

"Mentally, he is so sharp. He doesn't let anything affect him too much," said Giordano. "I think with any goaltender that is a key quality."

And those off-nights?

"It doesn't affect him," said Giordano. "He always seems to make that save to keep you in games or give us chance to win which is what you want from a goalie. His best quality is that he doesn't get rattled, ever. If he does have a night where he is not at his best, he can bounce right back."

While Kiprusoff has always been a puck-stopper -- sometimes in reflex, highlight-reel fashion -- Giordano says Kiprusoff flies under the radar in another area.

"He is underrated as far as how he handles the puck and moves the puck and helps the defencemen out there," said Giordano.

To appreciate just how good Kiprusoff is, we'll throw one more stat out there.

Since the Flames began this remarkable turnaround on Dec. 23 -- the date that everyone refers to as the key turning point -- the Flames have played 46 games. Their record is 27-11-8.

In that stretch Miikka Kiprusoff recorded 25 wins, proving, as Giordano noted, that he is the backbone of the team.





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