Flames 3 Thrashers 1
CALGARY — The way Miikka Kiprusoff has been playing of late, three goals was more than enough support.
Olli Jokinen scored the eventual winner and Kiprusoff kept up his red-hot play with 24 saves as the Calgary Flames won 3-1 over the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night.
“He’s probably been playing his best hockey in the last month and a half than maybe I’ve ever seen him play,” said veteran Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr.
Lofty praise considering his six seasons in Calgary included backstopping the Flames’ run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 and a Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 2006.
“I think he was disappointed, like the rest of us, on how things have gone here the last couple years,” said Regehr. “He was excited about getting here and doing a good job for the guys and I think he’s done exactly that.”
Told about the compliment, Kiprusoff shrugged it off in typical quiet fashion.
“He’s just pumping my tires,” Kiprusoff said with a grin. “When the team plays like that, it always makes a goalie’s job way easier. You look at tonight, 25 shots against, that’s nice, and makes it much easier for me.”
The 33-year-old Finn has been solid all season but has been especially sharp over the past three weeks.
Since giving up six goals and getting pulled after 40 minutes in a 7-1 home ice loss to Chicago on Nov. 19, Kiprusoff has been the NHL’s hottest goalie.
In nine starts since that rocky outing, Kiprusoff’s gone 6-2-1, posted two shutouts, and allowed only 11 goals — good for a 1.22 goals-against average and stingy .957 save percentage.
Kiprusoff improved his season record to 17-7-3, just two wins back of league-leader Martin Brodeur in New Jersey.
Perhaps his biggest save of the night came in the second period with Calgary leading 1-0. Kiprusoff threw out his glove to stab a shot off the dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk who fired a shot labelled for the top corner.
“Kipper made some big saves for us at big times,” said Calgary coach Brent Sutter.
Nigel Dawes and Rene Bourque, into an empty net, also scored for Calgary (19-8-3). Jarome Iginla had a pair of assists.
The Flames, a sizzling 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, were playing at home for the first time since returning from a season-high six-game road trip in which they went 4-2-0.
“It’s always tough to come back home after a long road trip,” said Jokinen. “It’s been eight games in the last nine we’ve been away so it was a big win for our club. We’ve just got to keep winning.”
Colby Armstrong scored the lone goal for Atlanta (15-10-3).
The Flames moved into first place in the Northwest Division, one point ahead of Colorado.
Leading 2-0 in the third period, Calgary looked in control until Armstrong ended Kiprusoff’s shutout bid at 12:27. Rich Peverley flung the puck towards the net and Armstrong had the rebound glance in off his skate as he battled in front with Flames defenceman Aaron Johnson.
However, Atlanta could not push across the tying goal.
“We just didn’t put enough pucks at the net to really test Kiprusoff,” said Atlanta coach John Anderson. “Twice we had it right in the slot and decided to try and pass it off. We can’t see the whites of the eyes before we shoot.”
Losers of three of its last four, Atlanta departed immediately after the game heading to Vancouver where they’ll wrap up a four-game road trip Thursday night against the Canucks.
“We’re just one of those teams that likes to make the perfect play and sometimes it’s not there,” said Anderson.
After a scoreless opening period, Calgary took charge in the second, scoring twice and outshooting Atlanta 14-6.
Dawes opened the scoring at 2:09 of the second period with his ninth of season, neatly deflecting Johnson’s slapshot behind Johan Hedberg as he cruised through the slot.
The Flames increased their lead to 2-0 at 14:28 when Iginla set up Jokinen who overpowered Hedberg with a hard 40-foot slapshot.
“They have a lot of good hockey players, they have a good offence, but we played patient hockey tonight,” Jokinen said. “After the first period, we played pretty solid hockey those last 40 minutes. We deserved to get the two points.”
Atlanta entered the game an impressive 9-3-1 on the road and winners of four of its last five away from home. However, they knew they were in tough against such an experienced team and in a very tough building.
“If you look at the Calgary line-up, they’ve got a really, really good team,” said Hedberg. “One of the best goalies in the world, some top notch defenceman, and Iggy and Jokinen up front. They’re a tough team to beat.”
Notes: Calgary D Robyn Regehr (undisclosed) returned after missing one game. However, C Craig Conroy (undisclosed), who was shaken up Monday night in the Flames 2-1 loss at Los Angeles, was not in the lineup. … Atlanta rookie LW Evander Kane was a healthy scratch. …Giant six-foot-seven Atlanta D Boris Valabik made his season debut after being out all season with an ankle injury. … Johnson’s assist was his first point as a Flame. … Calgary has scored first in 23 of its 30 games. … Only the New York Islanders (11) and Colorado (12) have played less home games than Calgary (13).