This will be Mike Vernon’s 49th Christmas, but it was when he was prepping for his 29th Christmas that he established a Calgary Flames record that could stand the test of time.
It will always be great debate in Calgary as to who is the greatest goaltender in Flames history, Vernon or Miikka Kiprusoff.
There was no debating that point 10 days before Christmas in 1992.
Calgary had never heard of the then 16-year-old Kiprusoff, who was still two years away from playing in his first world junior championship for Finland.
Mid-December 20 years ago, Vernon was three-and-a-half years removed from the season he backstopped the Flames to the 1989 Stanley Cup.
During that 1988-89 campaign, Vernon didn’t have a single shutout in the 52 regular season games he played, but had three in 22 playoff games. On Dec. 14 and 15 of ’92, he had his only two shutouts of the 1992-93 season. He is the lone Calgary Flames goalkeeper to notch shutouts on back-to-back nights. Adding to the feat, both were on the road.
A Flames goalie has posted shutouts in consecutive games five times in the team’s 32-year history, but only Vernon achieved the feat in the opponent’s arena.
It was part of a streak where the Calgary-born netminder didn’t allow a goal in over 164 minutes and 40 seconds, a club record.
That string of flawless play started in Ottawa Dec. 12 when Sylvain Turgeon scored on a power play at 11:14 of the second period in a game ending in a 1-1 overtime tie. Vernon would then register shutouts at Detroit and New York against the Rangers before he was finally solved by Los Angeles Kings forward Bob Kudelski at 10:54 of the first period in a game at Calgary on Dec. 19, 1992.
Vernon stopped 91 shots during his record shutout streak over four games in which the Flames played without their No. 11 defenceman, Al MacInnis, who was injured at the time.
While that was the hottest stretch of Vernon’s outstanding career, he was never better as a Flame than in the Cup run of ’89 when MacInnis narrowly bested him to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Vernon did get the Smythe honor when he backstopped Detroit to the Cup in 1997.
Kiprusoff, who lost out winning the Cup and quite likely the playoff MVP honour when the Flames fell to Tampa Bay, 2-1, in the 2004 Cup final, has wiped out all of Vernon’s other Flames records in his eight-year career in Calgary.
The 36-year-old Kiprusoff twice has posted shutouts in back-to-back games, but neither time was it on consecutive evenings or both on the road. His longest shutout string was 161:10 in April 2006, part of his Vezina Trophy-winning campaign. Kiprusoff also had a streak of 129:19 in March 2011.
The other Flames goalies with back-to-back shutouts were Roman Turek in the first two games of the 2001-02 season, which were also his first two games with the team, and Andrei Trefilov in January1994. Trefilov played just 22 games with the Flames, gaining three wins – two of which were shutouts.
Turek and Trefilov weren’t considered earlier this fall when Sportsnet 960 The Fan in Calgary conducted a fan poll for its all-time Flames team. Kiprusoff edged Vernon in a close vote.
Only time will tell if they’ll remain as the club’s top tandem.