When Leland Irving got into action last winter, Miikka Kiprusoff was never far away.

The Finn was around the rink. On the bench in a ball cap. Beside Irving in the dressing room — before games, during intermissions, after games.

Not now.

Not Thursday.

It’s Irving, in tandem with Danny Taylor, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. And, yes, according to the young man, it will be different not having the Calgary Flames’ star goalie in the vicinity.

“I’ve never played at this level without Kip there,” Irving said after Wednesday afternoon’s workout at Nationwide Arena. “He’s such a calm personality, I think maybe that must rub off on me during the games. But Danny’s a great guy, too. Very calm. I’m confident I’ll be able to get the job done either way.

“I know I can play at this level.”

Irving — at 24 years of age, with eight notches on his NHL belt — is showing signs of being ready for prime time.

With Kiprusoff felled by injury Tuesday — lower body, day to day — the 24-year-old had been plopped onto the hot seat at Joe Louis Arena. He was poised. And perfect. Six shots, six saves, in the Flames’ 4-1 victory.

“I was impressed by how comfortable I felt early,” said Irving, who was presented with the team’s firefighter hat for his heroics. “I was able to (feel the way I like to feel) when I’m in a game, which, to be honest, I haven’t had in a while. I struggled to find it in Abbotsford. This faster pace allows me to really bear down and play.”

And make no mistake, that 20-minute dunk in Detroit helps going forward.

“It could have been the best-case scenario — just to be thrown in there,” said Irving. “Right in the heat of a game, get a taste of some NHL speed, without much time to think or let myself get in the way.”



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