CHICAGO – Nikolai Khabibulin brings playoff experience to the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks, who are searching to add some of their own.
Not only that, the Blackhawks’ No. 1 goalie also carries a whole lot of success against their first-round foe, the Calgary Flames. The Blackhawks will hit the ice for their first post-season game since 2002 on Thursday night and will be counting on Khabibulin to lead the way. Chicago has only 10 players with playoff experience, totalling 309 games.
Khabibulin has 57 of those in stints with Winnipeg, Phoenix and Tampa Bay. The last time he played in the postseason, in 2004 with the Lightning, Khabibulin led Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup title.
He went 16-7 record with five shutouts and a 1.71 goals-against average, culminating with a seven-game series win over Calgary in the finals.
“Khabby has been around and been through it,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday.
Khabibulin, in the final season of a four-year contract with Chicago, started 11 of the Blackhawks’ 13 final games and went 8-1-2.
He had two of his three shutouts in the last week, including an impressive 37-save performance in the regular-season finale against the Red Wings on Sunday.
“Khabby has been really good down the stretch and good for us all year,” Quenneville said. “His experiences in the past are going to help us.”
Khabibulin is ready for a duel with Calgary counterpart Miikka Kiprusoff as he faces the injury-plagued Flames.
While the Blackhawks finished the season with a 6-0-1 spurt to claim fourth place in the Western Conference, the Flames landed behind Vancouver in second place in the Northwest Division after letting a sizable lead slip away.
“We know the important of goaltending and what it means to our team,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in our goaltending all year and we’ve got to rely on it a lot.”
Khabibulin has a career 22-5-2 regular-season record against the Flames. Three of those wins came this season as the Blackhawks swept Calgary 4-0.
Why is he so good against Calgary?
“I don’t know,” Khabibulin said. “Luck of the draw. Sometimes against certain teams you play better than against others.”
While Khabibulin acknowledged “experience is important this time of the year,” he didn’t place much importance on his record against the Flames.
“Every game starts 0-0,” he said. “I don’t like to think back. Every game is another game. You have to prepare and work.”
Two other Blackhawks – forwards Samuel Pahlsson and Andrew Ladd – have played for Stanley Cup winners. Pahlsson, acquired from Anaheim on March 4, leads Chicago with 64 games of post-season experience.
Three other Chicago players – forward Martin Havlat, and defencemen Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel – have been in at least 40 playoff games.
Notes: Blackhawks RW Patrick Sharp skated Tuesday and was optimistic that he’d be ready to play Thursday. Sharp missed the final five games of the season with a lower body injury. He was wearing a brace and had a small bandage on his left knee following practice. Sharp had missed 16 games from Feb. 19-March 22 with a knee injury.