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Drinks on house for Joel Kiviranta at local pub if he keeps scoring

Dallas Stars winger Joel Kiviranta (25) celebrates with forward Corey Perry (10) after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place on Sept. 19, 2020.
Dallas Stars winger Joel Kiviranta (25) celebrates with forward Corey Perry (10) after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place on Sept. 19, 2020.

To underscore how understated Joel Kiviranta is, there is a bar called Finnegans in his hometown of Tuusula outside of Helsinki where he’s a fairly regular customer.

Shortly after the surprising Finns won the 2019 world championship, beating Canada with a whole roster of NHL players, Kiviranta happened by the Irish pub with his team jersey in his lap and his gold medal in his pocket.

The bar manager said he hadn’t seen Kiviranta in the pub watching the mighty victory and wondered where he’d been, which brought a sheepish smile to the face of the unassuming Kiviranta, who showed him the gold medal and gave him his jersey.

“The man was quite embarrassed and apologized. I said no harm, no else has identified me here,” related Kiviranta in a book about the Finnish team triumph by Harri Pirinen.

As the legend of Kiviranta grows through this crazy ride with the Dallas Stars, he’s not faceless any longer. He’ll probably never have to buy a pint at Finnegans again or any of the bars around the American Airlines Center in Dallas if his playoff heroics keep up.

The winger, who had a hat-trick in Game 7 against Colorado, scoring late to tie it and then win it in overtime off a pass from Andrej Sekera, and popped one past Robin Lehner in Game 5 to eliminate Vegas, was at it again in Game 1 of the final with a late second-period goal on Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Dallas a two-goal lead.

Joel, which is pronounced Yo-El and rhymes with Noel, has been like a shiny Christmas present for the Stars. He’s got five goals on 18 shots in his nine playoff games since he stopped being a Black Ace and with the usual playoff all-hands-on-deck mentality has turned into one of the kings for the Stars. His stick has done the talking because Kiviranta, to this point, is a man of economy in English.

When Kiviranta got the three goals against Colorado, only in the lineup of 18 skaters because the veteran iron man Andrew Cogliano had an injury, he said he hoped he’d earned more games. After his work against Tampa, he was asked again if that was still how he was feeling.

“Mmmm, yeah,” said Kiviranta on the post-game zoom session with the media as Blake Comeau stifled a guffaw as he sat beside him. No elaboration from the man of fewer words.

Later, Kiviranta did offer up a longer answer about his playoff heroics.

“I don’t know what’s going on … sometimes it feels like wherever you shoot, the puck goes in.”

Like what Chris Kontos said back in 1989. The winger became King Kontos in 1989 after starting the ’88-89 season in Switzerland. He came back to the Los Angeles Kings for seven league games where he had two goals, and then out of nowhere popped nine goals in 11 post-season games, playing alongside Wayne Gretzky.

Kiviranta played 11 league games for Dallas and had one goal. On their AHL farm team in Austin, the 25-year-old winger had 12 goals in 48 games. Now, he’s on this out-of-body scoring experience in the playoffs.

And before we say it’s like John Druce’s 14 goals in 15 playoff games for Washington in 1990 or Fernando Pisani’s 14 in 24 post-season for Edmonton in 2006, it’s not quite the same. Druce played 45 regular-season games for the Caps and Pisani 80 for the Oilers those seasons.

“I’m just playing my own game, I drive the net and try to be like a water bug,” said Kiviranta, with the crack Finnish scribe Jouni Nieminen, who lives in Edmonton and works for Helsinki Sanomat, translating a zoom response from a media countryman post-game Saturday.

Or drive somebody into the glass as Kiviranta did to Brayden Point in the first period, which started a chain reaction and a goal by Joel Hanley.

Tampa defenceman Zach Bogosian got his dander up after the hit, raced over to Kiviranta, and was out of the play as Roope Hintz worked the puck to Hanley.

“Look, if I was a smarter coach, I’d have had him playing a lot earlier than this,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness, who is just as taken aback by Kiviranta’s scoring exploits as anybody else.

Bowness knew the kid, who was recommended to the Stars as a free-agent by Jere Lehtinen, the great Dallas winger who was Finnish national team GM, could skate and check and wasn’t afraid, relishing work along the boards.

But score like this?

“Kivy’s fearless and as inexperienced as he is playing in our league, he’s one of our best forwards at making plays off the boards so there’s a lot of poise and confidence with the puck,” said Bowness. “He’s very reliable defensively and he’s a great skater. You need guys to step up and he’s certainly done that.”

When the Stars signed Kiviranta in June 2019, they saw potential, but not this.

“We knew he’d played for the Finnish world championship team and any time you get on those teams you have a pretty good pedigree,” said GM Jim Nill. “He plays the right way and you get rewarded because of that. Plays a 200-foot game, plays hard, isn’t intimidated, goes to the net

“But did I ever expect this? No.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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