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Kiprusoff makes history as Flames whip Habs 4-1

by Arpon Basu /
MONTREAL -- Back in 2003, Miikka Kiprusoff was wondering when he would even be able to dress for a game. Toiling behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala on the San Jose Sharks' goaltending depth chart, Kiprusoff wasn't in the team's plans.

But then his former coach in San Jose, Darryl Sutter, became both coach and general manager of the Calgary Flames and swung a deal to send a second-round draft pick to the Sharks in exchange for their seldom-used goaltender.

The rest is history, and that history was made official Thursday night.

Kiprusoff made 35 saves to pass Mike Vernon for the most wins in franchise history and Rene Bourque scored two goals as the Flames spoiled the Montreal Canadiens' home opener and earned their first win of the season with a convincing 4-1 victory.

"I've been here a long time and played a lot of games, and it's about winning," Kiprusoff said. "But also, we really needed this game, 0-2 wasn't the start we wanted. But tonight we played much better as a team."

David Moss and Niklas Hagman also scored for the Flames (1-2-0), but the night belonged to Kiprusoff. The workhorse goalie notched his 263rd win in a Calgary jersey in his 483rd game, passing Vernon despite playing 43 fewer games.

Kiprusoff was acquired by the Flames from the Sharks for a conditional draft pick on Nov. 16, 2003, and promptly led his new team to the Stanley Cup Final, falling one win short of claiming the ultimate prize.

The trade breathed life into the then 27-year-old's career, and now, nearly eight years and a franchise record-setting career later, Kiprusoff admits he sometimes wonders how things may have worked out had he never gotten this opportunity with the Flames.

"Sometimes I do, actually," he said. "I always believe everything happens for a reason. I had some tough times there in San Jose, but the Flames and Darryl wanted me here, they gave me a chance. It was great for me."

It was great for the Flames as well as Kiprusoff's arrival filled a longstanding void in the Calgary net that essentially began when Vernon's first stint with the team came to an end in 1994.

"All I can remember," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said prior to the game, "is that he just came in here and was on fire right away." 

He's remained so pretty much ever since.

Aside from the 2009-10 season, when he was 10th, Kiprusoff has finished top three in the League in wins every year since 2005-06, his first full campaign in Calgary.

Over the same span, Kiprusoff has also finished in the League's top three in games played every year. In fact, of Calgary's 492 regular-season games between 2005-06 and 2010-11, Kiprusoff appeared in 444 of them, or 90.2 percent.

But Hagman, a fellow Finn, said that despite all the credentials, Kiprusoff is not the superstar one might think he is in his homeland.

"Back home, they probably think of him as a myth because he doesn't give too many interviews, he just stays at his summer place," Hagman said. "He's a tremendous goalie, he's been playing really well at a really high level. For him I'm sure it's a great honor to get the record."

Kiprusoff's counterpart in the Canadiens (1-2-0) net was seeking a milestone of his own, but Carey Price got little to no help from his teammates in notching the 100th win of his young career. Price allowed four goals on just 21 shots, but it was his injury-ravaged defense corps that should shoulder most of the blame.

However, coach Jacques Martin did not pin the blame on inexperienced defensemen like Yannick Weber and rookies Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin.

"There was a lot of inexperience on our blue line," he said, "but probably the guiltiest were not our inexperienced guys."

The Canadiens got on the board quickly after a player introduction ceremony that saw Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Price got the loudest cheers from the crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre.

Pacioretty took advantage of Cory Sarich's stick exploding on a one-timer to head up ice on a 2-on-1 with Kostitsyn. Pacioretty elected to shoot but his shot went wide and bounced off the end boards -- but landed right on Kostitsyn's stick for an easy tap-in at 1:47.

"It was unlucky for us, our defensemen broke his stick, there's nothing you can do about that, and then they got a funny bounce," Kiprusoff said.  "But we were ready, we know what we have to bring for the whole 60 minutes. It's not easy to come in for their home opener, so we'll take the two points."

Kostitsyn's goal turned out to be the lone highlight of the night for the home team as the Flames used three straight Canadiens penalties – including two in a row by captain Brian Gionta – to grab the momentum and finish the first period with a 3-1 lead.

"We beat ourselves," Martin said.

Bourque got his first of the night on a turnaround laser of a wrist shot on the power play at 7:15 and Hagman added another power-play goal at 11:38. Moss got his first of the season when he got behind Hal Gill and converted a nice Alex Tanguay feed at 14:54.

The Canadiens came close to drawing within one early in the second, but Kiprusoff robbed Gionta on a point-blank chance at 3:31 to maintain Calgary's two-goal margin, one that grew to three when Bourque scored his second of the night and third of the season at 13:23 of the second to make it 4-1.

The Flames were content to sit on their lead in the third period, registering just one shot on goal and needing about 18 minutes to get it. But the Canadiens were unable to take advantage to mount much of a comeback.
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