The notion that cross-conference opponents are often unaccustomed to each other only goes so far.
Just ask Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson
and Oilers net minder Nikolai Khabibulin.
At least, I think that’s the right order it goes in.
The two goaltenders will oppose each other in net tonight as the Bolts take on Edmonton. While the teams themselves don’t visit one another but once a year, the gaze peering out from underneath the goaltending masks will be all too familiar.
Roloson is facing his former team in the Oilers, which he led all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006 before falling in the decisive game to Carolina. As for Khabibulin, he’ll play for the first time at the Tampa Bay Times Forum since helping the Lightning to a Game 7 victory over Calgary in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
With Roloson competing against former Oiler teammates Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth, and with Khabibulin contesting Martin St. Louis
, a reunion of sorts is in order for both individuals.
“I have a lot of fond memories of my time in Edmonton,” Roloson said. “Making it into the playoffs, I think, on the second-to-last day of the season and running with it all the way to Game 7 of the Final was phenomenal. You never forget those.”
Khabibulin referred to the experience of winning the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay as “the ultimate goal you dream about as a kid.”
Still, he’s a little hazy on the details.
Such as, where his place in line fell to raise the Cup over his head.
“I’m not sure exactly,” Khabibulin said. “I’d say [Dave] Andreychuk was before, then after St. Louis maybe, [Vincent] Lecavalier, [Brad] Richards. I can’t remember who else.”
And what about the big pad save he made with 4:55 left to play in Game 7? You know, the one where he robbed Jordan Leopold of the tying goal that all but delivered the Stanley Cup just a few minutes prematurely?
“Pretty good, I guess.”
Former Lightning goaltender Khabibulin surrounded by his Edmonton teammates (Photo: NHLI via Getty Images)
But then again, why let a few technicalities get in the way of what he called his “best memory as a hockey player.”
“It’s nice to be back [in Tampa Bay] and see everything again,” Khabibulin said. “It’s a good feeling overall. As soon as you land the plane, you remember a lot of stuff. It means everything.”
It has been a long time coming, too.
Eight years has passed since Khabibulin last played in Tampa Bay, a stretch that includes stints in which he spent time with the Oilers, as well as the Chicago Blackhawks. The first time the Blackhawks visited Tampa Bay during the 2005-06 season, after Khabibulin signed with them as a free agent, Khabibulin did not play per the advice of his head coach, who felt it would be too much of a distraction. Two other times, once with Chicago and once with Edmonton, Khabibulin did not play because he was sidelined with injuries.
“I didn’t think it would be that long,” Khabibulin said of returning to Tampa Bay. “But it is what it is, so finally I get to start the game here.”
Roloson, meanwhile, after leaving Edmonton to sign with the New York Islanders prior to the start of the 2009-10 season, faced the Oilers just once during his time on Long Island. But that alone didn’t cause the Bolts net minder to think that tonight’s game would be any less special.
“I had a lot of great friends there and there are a lot of guys who I still keep in contact with,” Roloson said. “To see some old faces will be fun and exciting, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Come to think of it, Lightning fans probably couldn’t have said it better themselves.