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Confident Irbe continues to bug Penguins // Post-Gazette (English)
By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
He doesn't snarl or spit through his goaltender's mask. He won't use his stick to whack guys as they skate by his crease. And, at 5 feet 8, he barely towers above his own children. With his skates on.
But that doesn't mean he can't be intimidating.
And it most certainly doesn't mean he lacks confidence.
Just listen to the way he was crowing after his 34 saves single-handedly netted the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-1 victory over the Penguins last night at Mellon Arena.
"It didn't matter who shot, where they shot, whatever," Irbe said. "I know how I felt. This is just how a goalie feels sometimes. I'm not exaggerating. Sometimes, you just get like this. Sometimes, you just feel like, 'Bring it on.' "
Irbe, who years ago described himself in his thick Latvian accent as "like wall," offered another Irbe-ism to explain why he was so effective last night.
"I was seeing puck."
And to observe the calm demeanor with which he offered his entire postgame interview, you'd think he was stifling a yawn.
Scary stuff, indeed.
This performance wasn't so much about the volume of Irbe's saves, nor the quality, although both were eyebrow-raising. More impressive by far was the large number of shots the Penguins missed, 22.
It was proof positive that Irbe had carved his way deep inside their collective psyche. Rather than dare to shoot right at him, they started trying to pick corners or hit open spots that were little more than mirages. Most attempts sailed high.
"I noticed," Irbe said in a derisive tone. "I guess that's part of the game when you have frustration. It's a trend now for coaches to tell their players to shoot high on a small goalie. Some of their shots were 2 feet, 4 feet over the net. I wasn't going to worry about that. Sometimes, I was just standing there, letting them go over my head."
Irbe did give up a goal, failing to stop Jiri Slegr's short-side score at 12:04 of the third period. But he shrugged that off even as the siren was still wailing.
"It was going to come right at me," he said. "But it hit a stick and changed direction."
"I can't believe he missed the one he did," Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice said. "He was in that kind of groove."
Irbe's performance last night was eerily -- for the Penguins -- reminiscent of his previous visit to Pittsburgh. On Oct. 18, he stopped 31 shots, including 15 of 16 in the third period, to backstop a 3-2 Carolina victory. Which means that in those two games combined, he stopped 85 of 88 shots, including all nine taken by Jaromir Jagr.
Asked if his team has employed some clever strategy to hold Jagr without a point this season, Maurice grinned and replied, "Yeah, we put Archie on him. He couldn't shake Archie."
Here's the hard-to-believe part for anyone who attended either of the
Something special about facing the Penguins?
"I like it. I take it as a challenge," Irbe said. "They're a European team and like to pass the puck, so you can't challenge the shooter too much. You always have to leave yourself room for the extra pass. I always kept that in mind."
He did express one regret last night.
"Unfortunately, we don't have any more games scheduled in Pittsburgh
this season. I'll have to find other challenges."