Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, as he has throughout his National Hockey League career, thoroughly flummoxed the Calgary Flames. His career record against Calgary now stands at 30-10-2 — and his 43 saves, somehow fittingly, put the finishing touches on the Flames' fourth consecutive first-round playoff exit.
The Hawks are heading for Vancouver and a second-round date with the Canucks after Monday night's series-clinching 4-1 victory over Calgary in Game 6. The Flames are left, again, to their fitful dreams of No. 39 -- the same goaltender who denied them a Stanley Cup in the spring of 2004 when he played for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Khabibulin denied he had any kind of a hex on the Flames.
"I don’t think a record (against another team) really means anything," protested the 36-year-old Russian. "Everybody’s in the same position. A game starts at 0-0. You have to work at accomplishing something, and I think we worked the whole series."
If anything, the Flames did not go quietly in this Western Conference Quarterfinal series, peppering Khabibulin with 16 shots in the first period and 17 in the second.
The hosts were clearly frustrated during a 10-minute stretch of the middle period. Todd Bertuzzi wound up and blasted a slapper from the right dot on a power play, only to see Khabibulin flash his trapper. Olli Jokinen, stationed on the doorstep, took the rebound of Michael Cammalleri's point shot and tried to flip it over a seemingly helpless Khabibulin, only to see him flash the leather again.
Rene Bourque, from the lower left circle, rang the puck off the far post. Bourque smashed his stick on the boards to kindling as he returned to the bench.
"You’ve got to give some respect where it’s due … to their goaltender, and the way he battled for them," Cammalleri said. "At the same time, we always feel like we have more to give, and that there’s something you could have done more, maybe, to help win.
"It’s pretty upsetting right now."
After battling their way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, the Flames have now lost four consecutive first-round series — in seven games to Anaheim in 2006, six to Detroit in 2007, seven to San Jose last spring, and now six to the Blackhawks.
"It was there for us," Calgary captain Jarome Iginla said. "Give the Hawks credit; they’re a good young team that is resilient and plays with a lot of fire.
"But … this is the hardest one. And I also feel a big responsibility for not helping the group by getting it done."
Bertuzzi finally ended Khabibulin’s shutout bid in the first minute of the third period on a seemingly harmless sharp-angled shot from the bottom of the left circle.
But the damage had really been done in the second period. The Flames threw everything but the kitchen sink toward the net, but Chicago scored the only goal -- by defenseman Brian Campbell on a power-play point shot that changed direction off the stick of Adam Pardy.
Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff really didn't have much chance on any of Chicago's first three goals before Dustin Byfuglien hit the empty net in the final seconds.
Still, when Campbell took the wind out of Calgary’s sails, the shots clock read: Flames 28, Blackhawks 9.
"We threw everything we could at Khabibulin. Give him credit. He’s played well against us a couple of series, now. We needed more, and we just didn’t have it."