Nearing the end of a well-traveled career, the 40-year-old veteran appreciates the opportunity afforded him by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
"This is where it all happened," said Khabibulin, who posted five shutouts in the 2004 playoffs, including Game 4 of the seven-game finals against the Calgary Flames. "I had such a great experience here. I like the fans here. Every time coming back, whether I play or not, I only got to play here once, so it was pretty special the last time I played here and I think it will be the same tonight."
Since departing the Lightning, Khabibulin has faced Tampa Bay three times, going 2-0-1 with a 1.95 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. His only start at the Tampa Bay Times Forum came with Edmonton towards the end of the 2011-12 regular season with the Oilers losing 3-2 in a shootout loss.
Nikolai Khabibulin hoists the Stanley Cup after the Lightning defeated the Flames in Game 7 on June 7, 2004.
One of the opposing players facing Khabibulin Thursday will be a former teammate from that Stanley Cup roster, Lightning right winger Martin St. Louis, who led the 2004 team with 15 assists.
"Knowing him, he really likes the game and he keeps himself in shape so he can compete with the young guys," Khabibulin said of the 38-year-old St. Louis. "Marty is still Marty, though. He makes a lot of plays. He provides just as much energy as he did back then."
Khabibulin has made just one start this year, stopping 17 of 19 shots in a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
"Because of his history here, we decided to go ahead and give him the start," Quenneville said. "I think he can complement Corey in the right way. It’s a nice support system to have. He’s big, he’s experienced, so he gives us a nice combination."
A finishing touch?: The Blackhawks have gone eight straight games without scoring in the third period, having been outscored 8-0 over that stretch. While they sit alone in second place of the Central Division with 14 points, the players are not satisfied with their performance.
"We know what’s going on and we’re not happy," said Patrick Kane, who hasn’t scored in the past four games with two of his four goals this season coming from the power play. "It’s something we want to get fixed before it gets out of hand. All of us feel we can play better. Ideally, we’d want another third-period lead to happen sooner than later so we can prove to ourselves we can handle it."
Despite outscoring their opponents 18-7 in the first two periods combined, the Blackhawks are wilting in the third, even though their shots-on-goals totals match their opponents.
"I don’t think we’re playing any differently than we did the first two periods," Quenneville said. "Everybody gets a turn, and for the most part we’re doing the right things. I’m not worried about our offense."
Former Hawk suspended: After the morning skate at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, several players were in the locker room when the suspension of Buffalo Sabres enforcer John Scott was announced on ESPN. Several players watched the replay of Scott’s blindside hit to the head that leveled Boston Bruins forward Lou Eriksson in Buffalo’s 5-2 loss on Wednesday.
Kane said it was inevitable that Scott would be handed a suspension, which is indefinite pending a disciplinary hearing. The hearing is offered when a suspension could exceed five games.
Scott spent two seasons with the Blackhawks from 2010 to 2012.