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Khabibulin steadies himself, teammates

by Derek Jory
VANCOUVER –- Saturday night., Nikolai Khabibulin confirmed a couple of clichés after giving up a couple of first-period goals: Records are meant to be broken and a player in a dry spell is overdue.

Khabibulin, who started the night 0-10-1 against Vancouver dating back to 1998–yikes!–stopped 18 shots in a 6-3 Blackhawks win to even the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series up at 1-1. The veteran goalie made some big stops when the Hawks were still trying to tie up a game they eventually won going away.

No teammate was surprised Khabibulin managed to recover from the early goals, both power play goals and coming on the first five shots of the game. Khabibulin has been a rock for them all season rising to the occasion with monster games when needed.

When the Blackhawks first arrived at GM Place earlier in the week, Khabibulin played caboose trailing behind his teammates into the dressing room. He walked slowly and took long strides in a suit worth more than, ahem, some people's cars. He was even wearing sunglasses.

That’s Khabibulin, he’s cool as a cucumber. Having won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, he knows that it isn’t over until it’s actually over, and his reserved, calm nature is rubbing off on his less experienced teammates.

"We’re a young team and we may get in situations where we get too excited or too down on ourselves and he brings us back up," said forward Troy Brouwer, who had one assist and was plus-2 in Game 2.

Although the Blackhawks players carried 323 NHL playoff games on their side coming into this series, 11 Chicago skaters made their post-season debut, including two-thirds of its top line.

Everyone in the Blackhawks locker room has been absorbing Khabibulin’s experience like a sponge.

"Our most important member having won a Cup is huge," said defenseman Brent Seabrook, who also had an assist and was plus-2 on the night.

"He isn’t a loud guy but just watching him prepare and get ready and seeing him out there speaks enough. He’s such a big part of this team."

Chicago left wing Andrew Ladd and center Samuel Pahlsson also have their names engraved on they Stanley Cup, providing other sources of playoff grit and wisdom.

"They’ve been there, they know what it takes and both (Ladd and Pahlsson) just really know how to handle the team," Brouwer said.

"It’s guys like that who don’t have to say anything, you just watching what they’re doing and that picks you up. It gets everybody going."

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