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Mike Vernon is hoping to see Brian Elliott set a new franchise record on Tuesday in Washington

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, the man on the verge of being vanquished will switch on the flat-screen TV to Sportsnet to watch a final assault on his place in the local history books.

 And perhaps even mimic an old pal, Peter Maher - "Yeah, baby!" - should Brian Elliott amp his personal goaltending win streak up to an even dozen.

"Do I mind?'' repeats Mike Vernon. "Hell, no. I won't be losing any sleep if he passes me. Not one wink. Good for him, I say.

"Records are made to be broken. That's the beauty of sport. The game's different, new guys step up.

"That's what's exciting."

Between Jan. 17th and Feb. 27th, 1989, Vernon, the hometown kid, chalked up 11 consecutive wins minding the store for the Calgary Flames.

That, of course, was the touchstone year, the 117-point year, the Stanley Cup year.

"Later on, Kipper broke some of my records, too,'' reminds Vernon, one of only two men to have his jersey - No. 30 - retired by the club. "But I didn't mind. He was a helluva goalie.

"I've only met Brian Elliott a couple of times, we talked at Casino Night and those kinds of things. But I'm happy for him. When he came in here there were a lot of expectations. He was under the gun early.

"But he's settled in nicely. Both goaltenders - him and (Chad) Johnson - compliment each other. And that's what you need, two guys to push each other.

"They both seem like great guys. My kid went and played hockey this summer, Johnson was the other goalie and he took time out, made it a point to talk to my son. That's nice. My son remembers that. It's like 'Dad, you're nothing. I talked to Chad Johnson!'

"But it's awesome. That's what it's about, young kids looking up to guys like that."

The feeling of professional respect is entirely mutual.

"Any time you're mentioned in the same sentence as a guy like Mike Vernon, it's an accomplishment," acknowledged Elliott - just named the NHL week's third star - following his record-equalling W Sunday against the Kings. "Pretty cool."

As a connoisseur/disciple of the goaltending art, the old maestro believes that at the moment the Flames are blessed by an ideal situation between the pipes.

"There's competition there,'' he points out. "And that's a healthy thing. Especially now with so many games crammed into such a tight schedule, so many back-to-backs. It's more important that both guys are ready to go every night and the team knows they're going to get good goaltending either way."

Elliott is expected to be conscripted to start his 12th game of 13 at the Verizon Centre against Alex Ovechkin and the President's Trophy-leading Caps.

"What he's doing?'' says Vernon. "So impressive. More impressive than my streak back in the day, for sure. More crucial. A bigger thing.

"Because points are so hard to come by now. And they're fighting like crazy to make the playoffs and it's so tough. Back then, I'm pretty sure we were close to, if not already guaranteed, a playoff spot when I won the 11 in a row.

"I mean, in those days 81 or 82 points got you in. Now it gets you a real high draft pick.

"The league is so close. Look at the standings. It's ridiculous. And the three-point games make such a difference.

"To get yourself on a roll like this, win 10, 11, 12 games in a row is hard to do."

Admittedly, when the record-approaching first surfaced, the holder was taken slightly aback.

"You know what's ironic?'' laughs Vernon. "I remember the (team's) 11-game losing streak in '86 more than I remember my 11-game winning streak in '89.

"During that losing streak I got called up for the Russia game and we won. It obviously didn't count because it was an exhibition.

"But Badger (Bob Johnson) was so excited that we'd beaten the Russians. That was always one of his highlights. Then I got sent back down to Moncton. Right away.

"They played another game and it was a disaster so Badger says 'Get me Vernon back here.' So I got called up, we tied Vancouver, I think it was 4-4, and that broke the losing streak."

The Mike Vernon era had begun in Calgary.

Eras, as he mentioned early, are differently vastly affairs, making comparisons difficult. The NHL '89 vintage was a much more run-'n-gun game than today.

So it makes sense that through Vernon's 11-game run - beginning with a 7-1 shellacking of Detroit at the 'Dome and ending at the old Montreal Forum and a 3-1 loss on March 3rd - he surrendered 27 goals. Elliott, in contrast, has been dinged for only 19 over his.

"As I said, I don't know Moose well, but I've followed his career,'' says the two-time Cup winner and '97 Conn Smythe Trophy recipient as a Detroit Red Wing. "The goaltending position has changed so much over the years. I liked Kipper because he never gave up on a puck. From our San Jose days, I certainly knew Kipper better than I do Moose or Johnson.

"But just watching both these guys, I like their compete. In today's game guys sit back a little more, cover more net. But the battling never changes. So much of goaltending is about confidence, even if things don't go well for you."

So at 5 p.m. Tuesday, the man on the verge of being vanquished will sit down in front of the telly to watch the game from the Verizon Center. In Vernon's eyes, nothing less than success will do.

And should Elliott, as anticipated, happen to be minding the store, good on him.

"Absolutely,'' he says. "I just want to see the Flames do well. This is my hometown.

"I watched the game (Sunday) night and they tied up LA so well the Kings couldn't do anything. It was very impressive. Everybody chipped in. They seem to have a good thing going right now.

"Like I said, I want to see the Flames win."

A small local-knowledge laugh.

"When they do, people around this city are smiling and there other talking points besides the economy or the politicians."

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