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Kiprusoff leads Flames past Avs

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – The Calgary Flames can thank Miikka Kiprusoff for keeping their faint playoff hopes alive.

The 34-year-old goalie was sensational Sunday night, especially in the second period when he made 18 of his 34 saves, as the Flames held off the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 at the Pepsi Center.

"Our goalie was the difference, there's no other explanation," said Flames left wing Alex Tanguay, who collected an assist on Olli Jokinen's second-period goal and scored what proved to be the winner at 8:13 of the third. "He played great and kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.

"Goalies are like a pitcher in baseball. If he plays good, he's the difference, and he certainly was tonight."

Coupled with Chicago's 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay, the Flames pulled within one point of the eighth-place Blackhawks (92-91) in the race for the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.

But time is running out on the Flames, who only have two games remaining while the Hawks still have four to play. Also, Chicago has a huge advantage in case a tiebreaker is necessary with 36 non-shootout wins to Calgary's 31.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed," Tanguay said. "Right now we're going to need the gods on our side to get ourselves into the playoffs, but we're hanging on to the slim chance."

Tanguay's goal against his former Avalanche teammates gave the Flames a 2-0 lead. Jarome Iginla skated down the left side and passed across to Tanguay, who shot the puck under the crossbar.

"Iggy's got good speed and when I saw him taking off in the neutral zone, I just tried to skate as hard as I could to the net," Tanguay said. "The pass, I think the first pass hit the 'D's' skate and it came right back to him. He put it on the other side and goalies move so well side to side you have to get it over the pad. It lifted up pretty quick."

Milan Hejduk cut the Avalanche deficit in half by cashing in John-Michael Liles' feed with 5 minutes to play. The goal gave Hejduk 755 career points, tying him with Peter Forsberg for fourth place on the franchise's all-time scoring list.

Kiprusoff would have liked to have secured what would have been his seventh shutout of the season, but was more than happy to leave the building with a crucial win.

"Of course that's what goalies try to do," he said of the shutout. "When I go, I try to play shutout. But it's not a big deal. Two points, that's what counts."

Kiprusoff went 5-0 against the Avalanche this season with a 1.64 goals-against average. He turned aside 126 of 134 shots for a .940 save percentage.

"Everybody knows he's one of the best goalies in the game," said Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj, who stopped 34 of 36 shots. "He proved it tonight. I think a couple of times he was out of position, but he was making big saves, big stops. I think we did everything we could."

Kiprusoff made 18 saves in the second period when the Flames took their 1-0 lead on the goal by Jokinen, who scored from the slot.

Kiprusoff kept the Flames in front by robbing David Jones with his left pad a little over a minute later. Earlier, he made a big stop against Jay McClement barreling down left wing off a pass from Kevin Porter.

"They were shooting a lot, especially in the second period," Kiprusoff said. "They had some chances, but in the third period we played better in our own zone. We knew we had to win. We don't have many games left."

The Avalanche fired 28 shots at Kiprusoff through the first two periods despite playing without center Paul Stastny, who before the game was ruled out for the rest of the season because of a stress fracture in his right leg.

Budaj played one of his best games of the season for an Avalanche team that has been held to two goals or fewer in 20 of its past 29 games while posting a 4-23-2 record since Jan. 26.

"He played well," Liles said. "It was a tough battle, back and forth. Boods came up with some big saves and obviously (Kiprusoff) made some huge saves for them, and those are the ones you need to bury."
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