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Wild times could be in store for the playoffs

ST. PAUL - It became official when Vancouver defeated Colorado late Tuesday night: The Minnesota Wild will make its second appearance in the NHL's postseason next month.

ST. PAUL - It became official when Vancouver defeated Colorado late Tuesday night: The Minnesota Wild will make its second appearance in the NHL's postseason next month.

Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff might not be the goaltender the St. Paul lads would prefer to face early in their Stanley Cup quest.

On Jan. 9 in the Saddledome, Kiprusoff beat the Wild 3-0 and extended the franchise's record road losing streak to 11 games. On Tuesday, Kiprusoff ended the Wild's longest winning streak ever at nine games with another shutout - 1-0 in a shootout.

The shutout in January came in routine fashion. He required 26 saves to beat a team that was getting league-wide attention for its ineptitude on the road.

As it turned out, that loss was basically a season low point for the Wild. They had 21 victories and 22 losses after that futile January night in Calgary. Since then, they have gone 24-10 and stands second in the Northwest Division with 97 points, one point behind Vancouver.


There has been an amazing transformation in the league's view of the Wild in the 11 weeks since that initial Kiprusoff shutout. Coach Jacques Lemaire's squad recently has been the subject of features on NBC, on SI.com and in the Canadian media.

The themes have been similar: The Wild have become the team no one wants to face in the first round of the playoffs.

If the Wild are that team, Kiprusoff could be that goaltender.

This shutout was the opposite of routine for Kiprusoff. He required 32 saves to get the Flames to overtime, then six more during the four-on-four overtime.

Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, lately the Western Conference's most-dynamic duo, had some chances in regulation - and then were free-wheeling through the open ice in overtime.

"They are dangerous when it is five-on-five," Kiprusoff said. "And overtime gives them even more room. They have so much speed and skill, you know they are going to get chances."

Demitra and Gaborik came down on a two-on-one with 40 seconds remaining in OT. Only the lonely defender and Kiprusoff were in the play, so Demitra had plenty of time to decide whether to shoot or pass the puck to Gaborik on the right.

"I tried to challenge (Demitra) . . . came out a lot," Kiprusoff said. "He made the pass, and Gaborik kind of missed a shot. I got lucky there."


There was another moment of good fortune for Calgary's Finnish star late in the first period. Mark Parrish's deflection into the net was ruled by replay to have come off a high stick.

"I didn't see it, so I didn't know," Kiprusoff said. "But my 'D' told me, 'Don't worry. It was high.'"

Even with some luck, Kiprusoff had to play much better to get to the decisive shootout than did his fellow Finn - Niklas Backstrom, the Wild goalie.

Backstrom had 20 saves in regulation. One, just one, came off a shot that looked dangerous. That shot came from Jerome Iginla in the third period's last minute.

Backstrom was tested a couple of times in overtime, although he never was in the same predicament as was Kiprusoff, trying to figure out what to do about a Slovakian two-on-one.

"That team is playing very solid," Iginla said. "They came out flying, and Kipper was great early to keep it scoreless. After that, it was a tight game."

The only advantage Calgary had going into Tuesday's game was desperation. Colorado had closed to within five points for the final playoff spot in the West. The Flames will be without that edge today. These two points - and Colorado's loss to the relentless Canucks - left the Flames seven points in the clear with six games to play.

"That extra point was nice to get," Iginla said.


After holding his team in the game for 65 minutes, it took maybe two minutes for Kiprusoff to get the extra point. He stoned Demitra and Brian Rolston in the shootout, while Alex Tanguay and Iginla were beating Backstrom.

Niklas had an excuse. It's tough to suddenly stop a couple of breakaways when you have spent most of the night leaning against the crossbar, waiting for some activity inside your blue line.

Reusse writes for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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