If the Calgary Flames
want to not only make the playoffs but capture their second Western Conference championship in the last four years, Miikka Kiprusoff
must raise his game to the next level.
Heading into Friday’s action, Kiprusoff ranked third among NHL goaltenders in wins, but his goals-against average and save percentage were pedestrian, not indicative of one of the League’s elite.
The Flames needed more than that against the Detroit Red Wings, and Kiprusoff was brilliant. He stopped all 38 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season and the 25th of his career, and Alex Tanguay scored in the first period as Calgary won 1-0 Friday at Pengrowth Saddledome.
''It was a big game for our team. We've been playing pretty well the last few games and we have to keep going that way,'' said Kiprusoff.
With the two points, the Flames moved into a three-way tie for fifth in the West standings with San Jose and Nashville.
"We definitely did steal one," said Tanguay. "Kipper bailed us out many times. Even though they don't have [injured defensemen Nicklas] Lidstrom and [Brian] Rafalski, they are still a very dangerous team. It seems like the latter part of the second period and in the third, we kind of lacked energy."
Kiprusoff, whose last shutout also came by a 1-0 score, against Minnesota on March 27, 2007, was particularly impressive in the third period. The Red Wings had a 13-2 advantage in shots while pressing for the tying goal, but Kiprusoff made several key saves, including one on Pavel Datsyuk in the slot.
"It feels good," said Kiprusoff. "We played a pretty strong game, our forwards did great with the backchecking, it was a good team game."
Detroit, which also found itself on the wrong end of a 1-0 score against Dallas on Sunday, lost for the seventh time in eight games. The Red Wings were playing their first game without Lidstrom, out three weeks with a sprained knee, and saw the injury bug bite their defense corps again when Chris Chelios was hit in the leg by a shot in the first period and did not return.
“It sounds like he’s got a little bit of a fracture there,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of the 46-year-old Chelios. “I don’t know if that means he can’t go or it’s a non-displaced thing, or what exactly that means, I think it’s more of a pain tolerance thing. The bottom line is whoever’s available is playing.”
The game’s only goal might not have been a thing of beauty – it didn’t come off an end-to-end rush or a fancy passing play – but Tanguay and the rest of the Flames will take it all the same.
Red Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey turned the puck over along the end boards, and Tanguay was there to pick it up. The veteran left wing, who scored twice Wednesday against Dallas after going 16 games without a goal, banked the puck off Brett Lebda, who was standing in front of the net, and past goalie Chris Osgood.
Tanguay’s 14th of the season came at 11:54 and was all Osgood, who made 25 saves, would allow.
''He made some huge saves,'' said Calgary’s Craig Conroy.
''It's Detroit, it's almost like when a wounded animal is more dangerous than normal. They've got very good players. All their offensive guys, those guys are unbelievable, it's never an easy game.''
The Red Wings fired 12 shots at Kiprusoff in the first period and 13 more in both the second and third, but came up empty. Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler also hit goal posts in the first 10 minutes of the third.
''We had a couple posts tonight, a couple chances where we just missed him,'' said Detroit forward Kirk Maltby. ''It seems like in this little stretch here, we've had lots of chances but we're not just finishing.''
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.