GAME: Minnesota Wild (36-34-7) at Calgary Flames (43-24-9).
TIME: Friday, 9 p.m. EDT.
Few would deny that Miikka Kiprusoff is the biggest reason the Calgary Flames are close to their first division title in 12 years. Rookie defenseman Dion Phaneuf has something to do with it, too.
Two nights after Phaneuf eclipsed one franchise record, Kiprusoff looks to do the same when the Flames host the Minnesota Wild.
A victory in this contest would be Kiprusoff's 40th of the season, breaking the club mark he currently shares with Mike Vernon, who had 39 wins in 1987-88.
Kiprusoff has helped Calgary take a five-point lead over second-place Colorado in the Northwest Division with six games remaining. The Flames haven't been division champions since winning the Pacific in 1994-95.
"He has had a great year," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "We get used to some of those saves he makes. He makes them look routine and when you are on the bench you kinda look and think, 'That's Miikka.' He is definitely the reason we are where we are right now."
Just as he did in 2003-04 when he set an NHL record with a 1.69 goals-against average, Kiprusoff has carried the Flames to a superb season while putting them on the brink of clinching a second straight playoff berth after a seven-year absence. They'll officially qualify for the postseason with wins in this contest and Saturday at Vancouver.
Kiprusoff has not allowed more than three goals in 30 consecutive starts. He is third in the league with a 2.15 GAA, though he's done it in 69 games while the two goalies ahead of him - Montreal's Cristobal Huet and Ottawa's Dominik Hasek - have combined to appear in just 76.
Kiprusoff led Calgary to the Stanley Cup finals in 2003-04, losing in seven games to Tampa Bay, but he didn't have Phaneuf's help that season.
Phaneuf, who turns 21 on Monday, is third on the team with 47 points, sixth among all rookies and 10 more than any other first-year defenseman.
In Calgary's 5-2 victory over Phoenix on Wednesday, Phaneuf scored his 19th goal to break the club record for rookie defensemen of 18, set in 1985-86 by Gary Suter. The goal also tied him for the third-highest total by a first-year defenseman in NHL history.
"It's definitely an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Gary Suter," said Phaneuf, who also had an assist. "But you can't have individual success without the help of your teammates."
Phaneuf has scored in two straight games and Calgary is 4-0-1 in its last five, a stretch during which Kiprusoff has a 1.58 GAA.
The Wild have won three of four, with every victory in that span coming by shootout. Brian Rolston scored the shootout winner in Minnesota's last two games, a 5-4 victory over St. Louis on Tuesday and a 2-1 win over Edmonton on Thursday.
"It's a stressful situation, and you try to relax as much as you can," Rolston said.
A loss in this contest would officially eliminate the Wild from playoff contention. They are 10 points behind San Jose for the eighth and final playoff spot with five games remaining.
STANDINGS: Wild - 79 points, 5th place, 16 PB, Northwest Division. Flames - 95 points, 1st place, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Marian Gaborik, 34 goals; Rolston, 44 assists and 76 points; Derek Boogaard, 150 PIM. Flames - Iginla, 33 goals and 61 points; Daymond Langkow, 31 assists; Darren McCarty, 111 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Wild - Power play: 17.4 percent (74 for 424), 21st in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.2 percent (353 for 405), 1st. Flames - Power play: 18.8 percent (84 for 447), 8th. Penalty killing: 83.9 percent (392 for 467), 9th (tied).
GOALTENDERS: Wild - Manny Fernandez (29-17-6, 1 SO, 2.30 GAA); Josh Harding (1-0-0, 0, 3.69). Flames - Kiprusoff (39-20-9, 8, 2.15); Brian Boucher (4-7-0, 0, 4.16).
SEASON SERIES: Flames, 5-2.
LAST MEETING: March 21; Wild, 3-1. At St. Paul, Minn., Gaborik scored twice and Rolston added a short-handed tally to lift Minnesota.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 14-18-5 on the road; Flames - 27-7-4 at home.