There’s Evgeni Nabokov and Sergei Bobrovsky, but the “best Russian NHL goalie” debate never happens without Nikolai Khabibulin’s name coming up. At 799 games, he holds the all-time lead among Russian NHL stoppers by more than 100. He was the first Russian goalie to win a Stanley Cup and remains the only one to do so as a starter.
‘The Bulin Wall’ was a star prospect in his native Russia, excelling with Red Army and the world junior squad and also earning a roster spot on the 1992 Olympic team that competed as the Commonwealth of Independent States. Khabibulin carried his pedigree with him to the NHL as a Winnipeg Jet. The lockout in the first half of 1994-95, his rookie year, gave him the AHL seasoning he needed to make an immediate NHL splash.
He enjoyed some excellent seasons helping the franchise through its early years of the Phoenix relocation before a 2001 trade to the Tampa Bay Lightning launched his glory days. Khabibulin was positively possessed in the 2004 playoffs. He tied a league record for shutouts in one series with three in the first round and was a force all the way to Tampa’s Game 7 Cup victory over Calgary. Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy, but Khabibulin’s claim to the award was just as strong. He produced a .948 SP in the last four games of the series.
Khabibulin never matched those heights again but was solid for another decade, playing past his 40th birthday. Sitting tied for 22nd all-time in wins but with no major individual accolades to his name, he’s a prominent member of the Hall of Very Good.
Born: Jan. 13, 1973, Sverdlovsk, USSR
NHL Career: 1995-2013
Teams: Wpg/Phx, TB, Chi, Edm
Stats: 333-334-97, 2.72 GAA, .907 SP, 46 SO
Stanley Cups: 1
DID YOU KNOW?
Khabibulin was incarcerated in 2011 for 15 days (with daytime work release on weekdays) for driving under the influence. He spent the first 48 hours in ‘Tent City,’ a part of Maricopa County Jail known for sweltering, bug-infested desert conditions. He claimed to lose seven pounds in those two days. Some prisoners recognized him and he signed autographs.