CALGARY - The Calgary Flames knew they would need their goaltending to be superb if they had any chance of knocking off the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs. They just didn't expect a clutch performance to come from Curtis Joseph.
Pressed into duty only three minutes and 33 seconds into regulation - after the Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third game of the series - Joseph shut the door on San Jose, stopping 22 shots in the Flames improbable 4-3 come-from-behind victory Sunday night.
"I can't remember the last time a team was down 3-0 in the playoffs and made a significant comeback," said Joseph, who was signed by Calgary as an insurance policy in January. "This is a particularly special night".
Joseph only had to face three shots in the first, but when San Jose went on four power plays in the second and third, the 40-year-old made the pivotal saves for the Flames, who suddenly lead the series 2-1 going into Game 4 on Tuesday.
"He played amazing," said Calgary captain Jarome Iginla afterwards. "The chances they had were pretty good and they came at momentum changing times. (Joseph) shut the door and we are pretty fortunate to have two exceptional goaltenders here".
It was far from an impressive start for the Flames and starter Miikka Kiprusoff, who along with a sold-out Saddledome crowd were stunned following the three-goal Sharks first period barrage. After Douglas Murray scored on the Sharks third consecutive shot to put San Jose up 3-0, Kiprusoff, who gave up the second and third goals only 14 seconds apart, was pulled after giving up the trio in a span of 122 seconds.
"We had to do something to change the momentum, or at least delay their momentum," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan. "Curtis played exceptionally well. He was very composed and looked like a veteran. I wasn't surprised. I've seen it before."
Joseph's last taste of playoff action was ironically at the Saddledome, as the goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings in 2004. He gave up the only goal of a 1-0 overtime loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semi-final series, one that moved the Flames on before eventually losing in the Stanley Cup finals.
"When you are down 3-0 you mindset is you have nothing to lose, and we certainly turned it up," said Joseph.
Kiprusoff did not speak to the media after the game but he certainly did have communication with his teammates, and fellow netminder, during the first and second intermissions.
"He came into the room between periods and was encouraging (Joseph) and that had everyone in here believing we could find a way to do it, to get it done," said Iginla.
And that even resonated with an 18-year NHL veteran, who is fifth all-time in wins among goaltenders (446).
"It's just great. We talked and he's an unflappable guy who doesn't get fazed easily, so it's good to have him here," said Joseph. "I thought certainly he was the best player in the first two games in the series and those goals were not his fault."
Aside from an 18-second stint late in a game against Detroit last year, Kiprusoff had not been replaced since 2004, when Roman Turek came in for spot duty for just under a period that year. Kiprusoff had been terrific in Games 1 and 2 of the series, stopping 78 of the 82 shots he faced in San Jose. In fact, Sharks head coach Ron Wilson was lamenting after Sunday's morning skate that his club "hadn't faced a goaltender like Kipper in the last two months" and before the game insisted he was not sure how to solve the 2006 Vezina trophy winner.
While Keenan refused to announce a starter for Game 4, it would be a shock if Kiprusoff will not be in net Tuesday in Calgary. But on Sunday, the night was about the backup in the aftermath of the Flames win.
"He's a veteran goalie and obviously tonight showed why they got him here," admitted Sharks winger Ryane Clowe, who had a goal and an assist. "There were a couple of point blank shots and he made the saves. He came in and just did a great job."