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CANADA'S TEAM
Michael Farber
June 07, 2004
As Hockey Nation looks on, underdog Calgary and unflappable goalie Miikka Kiprusoff have held off high-scoring Tampa Bay
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June 07, 2004

Canada's Team

As Hockey Nation looks on, underdog Calgary and unflappable goalie Miikka Kiprusoff have held off high-scoring Tampa Bay

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Many Tampa Bay players have also shown questionable judgment, notably Lecavalier. He was sublime in Game 2, combining the physical edge that has tinted his best playoff performances with an unmatched offensive flair. He created the first goal by backhanding the puck off the back of the net—a direct-from-the-pond move that flummoxed Calgary checker Stephane Yelle—then spinning 180 degrees and skating out with the puck. The only things missing were Sweet Georgia Brown and the confetti-in-the-bucket gag. But then, drunk on his own skill and toughness, Lecavalier tried the move again in Game 3 (it failed) and also picked a fight with Flames captain Jarome Iginla. Although Tortorella applauded from the bench, the tussle was as misguided as it was startling; Iginla is a semiregular pugilist despite his day job as Calgary's top offensive threat, while Lecavalier had had just 10 fights in his six-year NHL career. Iginla won that battle and the war, setting up Simon's goal and scoring a late one of his own.

Iginla is the omnipresent face of the Flames and indeed of all Canadian hockey. Principal CBC news anchor Peter Mans-bridge flew from Toronto to Tampa to conduct a 30-minute interview with him last week. (Imagine Dan Rather wanting a good half hour with St. Louis.) But Kiprusoff has been a perfect complement on this transcendent joy ride. Unlike the effervescent Iginla, Kiprusoff seldom reveals anything other than a luxuriant orange thatch of playoff beard when he slips his mask on top of his head during stoppages in play. Even after being tripped up by the Lightning's Andre Roy midway through the third period of Calgary's 4-1 loss in Game 2, he looked unperturbed. "He didn't get all revved up and start slashing [ Tampa Bay players]," Flames defenseman Andrew Ference said. "His demeanor is a huge help, especially after a tough night or a loss."

For Kiprusoff, Game 2 against the Lightning marked the fifth time he had allowed four or more goals in a playoff defeat. In the five subsequent games—all wins—Kiprusoff allowed a total of five goals. He was a remarkable 7-1 after playoff losses, with a 1.17 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage in those games, numbers that speak to will as much as to skill. He has mastered the art of controlling a rebound, especially his own. "He's always been able to bounce back," Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, who grew up in the same Turku neighborhood, said by telephone from Finland last Thursday. "He'd have a bad game and it was like, Screw this."

The Flames acquired Kiprusoff, then a career backup with a record of 14-21-3, from the San Jose Sharks in November for a conditional 2005 draft pick. At that time the only thing lower than the expectations around Kiprusoff were his pads. Although most goalies would wear hip waders if they could get away with it—the NHL limited the allowable pad length to 38 inches this season—Kiprusoff was flitting around in 35-inchers. David Marcoux, Calgary's goalie coach, convinced Kiprusoff that by shorting himself he was ceding space between his legs and got him to switch to 36�-inch-long pads that extend farther up his thighs. Not that Kiprusoff spent much time on his knees. Marcoux encouraged him to mix in a little more butterfly and moved him deeper into the crease on plays coming off the wings, allowing the goalie to use his astonishing lateral speed more effectively. The coach did not, however, tinker with Kiprusoff's glove hand. Says Marcoux, "You don't mess with a gold mine."

After a succession of otherwise estimable European goalies who haven't caught the puck as much as subdued it, and who have handled it as if it were toxic, Kiprusoff has distinguished himself with his glovework and polished outlet passing. The goalie who finished the season with a 1.69 goals-against average, the lowest in more than 60 years, defies stereotypes and scouting reports. "He doesn't do the same thing all the time, which is a sign of a thinking goalie," Tampa Bay associate coach Craig Ramsay says. "That makes him difficult to read."

To the Lightning, he might as well be Ulysses.

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