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at Calgary, 7 PDT (TV: FSN West)

These Masked Men Will Have Their Say

Goaltending is key in the playoffs, and Giguere and Kiprusoff have already shown they can rise up.

April 21, 2006|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — Neither really knows the other very well, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Miikka Kiprusoff do know there is a symbiotic bond of sorts between them.

They know the path through the Stanley Cup playoffs and what success in these games can do for one's career. As the Ducks and Calgary Flames meet tonight in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round series, the two goaltenders know they'll be under the microscope.

"Goaltending is a big part of the game," Giguere said. "Everybody knows that, especially when it comes down to the playoffs. You need your goaltending to be nice and solid."

There are a number of teams, this time around, whose goalies have never been in the playoffs. But Anaheim and Calgary won't have any such worry.

Giguere, of course, was the star of the 2003 postseason. Considered an up-and-coming No. 1 goalie at the time, the Montreal native became the story of the hockey world in leading the Ducks to an unexpected run that left them one victory short of an improbable Cup win.

In becoming only the fifth player from a losing team to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player, Giguere had five shutouts, a 1.62 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.

Kiprusoff remembers watching those playoffs.

"I guess he played pretty well," he deadpanned with a grin.

The five-year veteran from Finland has his own story. In his first postseason experience with the Flames in 2004, Kiprusoff led all playoff goalies in minutes (1,655) and shutouts (five) along with a 1.85 goals-against to take Calgary to a Game 7 Cup final against eventual champion Tampa Bay.

Since then, Kiprusoff has become a worthy challenger to New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Ottawa's Dominik Hasek as the best in the game. A likely Vezina Trophy winner, the 29-year-old led the NHL with 10 shutouts and fewest goals against at 2.07 a game.

"He's capable of winning games by himself," Duck forward Rob Niedermayer said of Kiprusoff. "That's what makes him dangerous. He's that type of goalie."

Giguere has held up his end for the Ducks. Motivated to prove he was no one-hit wonder, he won 30 games for the second time in his career and posted strong numbers in goals-against (2.66) and save percentage (.911) in rebounding from a subpar 2003-04 season.

"Both goalies have played extremely well and they've been strong in the net," Duck Coach Randy Carlyle said. "They've proven they can take a hockey club further and deep into the playoffs. But, again, this is a whole new year."

Giguere does not see this as a personal showdown.

"I don't think it's between the goalies," he said. "I play against the puck, which I try to beat every game. At the end of the day, it's going to be the Calgary Flames against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The better team is going to win, not the better goalie."

For both Giguere and Kiprusoff, it took a move to another organization to fulfill their destiny. After being drafted by Hartford in 1995, Giguere spent two years as a backup with the Flames before the Ducks got him in 2000 for a second-round draft pick.

Kiprusoff started in San Jose where he was trapped behind Evgeni Nabokov. Calgary General Manager and Coach Darryl Sutter, who had him when he coached the Sharks, gave his former team a second-round pick for what became a career-altering move.

"It was good to come here," Kiprusoff said. "He knew what I was and I knew what he wanted me to do. He was good for me. He played me right away and gave me a good chance.

"I don't think we are the first goalies where that's happened. It's tough to get a starting job in the NHL. Sometimes it takes a trade to get there."

Said Giguere: "Miikka had a coach that was very confident in him and wanted him."

Kiprusoff also has been helped by a shutdown defense corps that is deep and tough. The Flames sent a physical message that the Ducks answered in a 4-3 victory in the regular-season finale.


Duck enforcer Todd Fedoruk is expected to play in this series, even as he recovers from back spasms. Fedoruk, expecting a tight series, said, "We're going to have to go shot for shot with them."


Keys to the series

Eric Stephens' keys for the Ducks in series with Calgary:

* 1. Get traffic in front of the net: Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff probably will win the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender this season and already has plenty of playoff experience. The Ducks will have to pay a physical price, but they must make it difficult for Kiprusoff to see shots because he does not give up many rebounds.

* 2. Jiggy must be Jiggy: Jean- Sebastien Giguere has been solid most of the season and has the ability to take his game up a notch. The 29-year-old netminder doesn't have to put the Ducks on his back as he did in '03, but he must be able to steal a game, which great goalies often do in the playoffs.

* 3. Skate, skate, skate: The Ducks are built on speed and skill and they must use it to their advantage and counter the Flames' brawn on the blue line. Already strong in five-on-five situations, they can gain a big advantage by winning the special teams battle as they can send out two effective power-play units.

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