Hearing that Curtis McElhinney was on the bench during a hockey game would shock no one.
As the Calgary Flames’ backup, he spends much of his winter perched on pine.
But it was a different story Wednesday. A different story entirely.
Because by the time McElhinney settled into the players’ box, he’d already done plenty of heavy lifting. Maybe more than anyone else at American Airlines Center, having blocked nearly 40 shots — many from point-blank range. A heroic effort.
Think that’s surprising?
Well, try this on for size.
With the Dallas Stars ahead 2-1, with only minute remaining in regulation time, with the crowd shrieking in anticipation of a home win, with the Flames deploying an extra attacker, McElhinney wasn’t — was not — watching.
Which is too bad.
Because McElhinney missed a vital contribution from Jarome Iginla. Already the Flames captain had scored once — a ripper of a wrister — and already he had punished defencemen a-plenty. But while McElhinney was focusing elsewhere — “I was just minding my own business and trying to stay out of everyone’s way,” he says — Iginla went into overdrive, rumbling deep into enemy territory, grabbing the puck, feeding Daymond Langkow for the equalizer.
The night, however, wasn’t finished. Nor was Iginla.
McElhinney, back in net, was indeed looking when Iginla bombed home a power-play slapper 85 seconds into overtime, sealing the travellers’ 3-2 triumph in National Hockey League action.
“Great — that’s what we need,” said McElhinney. “He’s our leader and we want to all fall in step behind him. When he’s going, everyone else will as well. Big game for him.”
Anyone can marvel over Iginla’s three points.
But there was more from No. 12.
A game-high five hits, for instance.
Zero giveaways, after a wince-worthy five against the Detroit Red Wings.
“He did a lot of things,” said Flames coach Brent Sutter, who’d given his star winger a public jolt following that miserable outing Saturday. “He led and he led by example. His work ethic was high. His tenacity was there.”
And while Iginla was the story, particularly in the late stages, the night truly belonged to McElhinney, the hard-luck netminder.
With Miikka Kiprusoff under the weather — a “bug,” according to Sutter — McElhinney got pressed into service.
And the Calgary kid was stellar, blocking the first 36 pucks he saw. That the 37th and 38th went in — courtesy of James Neal and Loui Eriksson in the third period — was a bummer, but McElhinney insisted that he never drooped into woe-is-me mode.
“He played extremely well,” said Sutter. “He stood tall. He was rewarded for it. A great effort.”
McElhinney’s strong play — coupled with Iginla’s handiwork (and, yes, tremendous toil from the penalty-killers) — halts the Flames’ losing streak at two.
“It was definitely a big boost to see Curtie in the zone like that,” said Iginla. “Oh yeah, that’s the best game he’s played, especially early. He didn’t know if he was going to play or not. He was ready. In that first period, they had (four) power plays . . . and they have a good power play.
“Especially early, to see him just battling in there and making save after save . . . when you’re on the road, that’s huge. That was probably the biggest part of the game.”
For McElhinney, too, it stands as a sweet moment.
Last season, he waited till Game 82 to put a dubya — his first — into the books.
Now, in Game 13, he’s already booted the bagel . . . and redeemed himself after a grim start (and resulting 5-2 loss) against the Stars last month.
“Nice to get a little payback,” said McElhinney, who foiled Brenden Morrow on a second-period penalty shot — one of the Dallas captain’s six shots on the night. “You know what? I had the expectation that they were going to throw everything on net. But I was ready for it, I’ll say that.
“I felt great out there. Really comfortable.”
OK, so what happens tonight in St. Louis?
Kiprusoff participated in the pre-game warm-up, then was nowhere to be seen.
Not on the bench. Not out after either intermission.
Sutter says the situation — and his No. 1 netminder — will be re-evaluated today.
“If he can’t play, we’ll go back with Mac,” said the coach. “If Kipper’s good to go, we’ll go with Kipper.”