Puck Blog

Khabibulin and Blackhawks get best of Flames once more; series shifts to Calgary Monday night


Nikolai Khabibulin was spectacular once again on Saturday night against Calgary in Game 2 of the series between the Blackhawks and the Flames. Khabibulin has a .922 save percentage to go along with a 2.26 GAA in 59 career playoff games; you can say that the ‘Bulin Wall rises to the occasion. Much has been written recently in the local newspapers as well as on a national level about Khabibulin’s mastery of the Calgary Flames. Game 3 is tomorrow night in Calgary.

Familiar Wall once again too tough to crack

Last Updated: 19th April 2009, 4:52am

CHICAGO — The Flames finally managed to knock a couple of bricks out of the Bulin Wall.

They just can’t seem to take it down.

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has dominated the Flames his whole career.

His all-time record between the playoffs and regular season is an ungodly 28-8-2.

Should it really be a surprise nothing seems to be changing in their best-of-seven series.

When Calgary had the chance to extend the two-goal lead in the first period of last night’s 3-2 loss — a third goal would have been akin to a knockdown punch — Khabibulin held strong.

When Calgary was pushing frantically to draw even — there were three scoring chances in the first minute — the Bulin Wall didn’t have a hole.

You can’t help but think the Flames are starting to think they won’t beat him.

“I’m sure Habby’s in their heads as much as Kiprusoff’s in ours,” said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp. “We know we have to outwork him if we want to score. Anything those two guys see, they’re probably going to stop. We’ve got to drive the net hard and score dirty goals.

“Whether it’s the Flames or anybody else, we know he’s going to give us a good effort, been doing it all year long. I think he’s really stepped up his game for us.

“I think they’ve got some gifted goal scorers going to put it in, hopefully they don’t, but Habby has been playing well.”

Well?

How about amazing.

Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff has been excellent through the first two games of the series that now shifts to Calgary.

Khabibulin has been better.

“Spectacular,” assessed Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville. “He was the key factor in us winning tonight. He was big, made several quality saves you’re saying, ‘How did that stay out of the net?’ ”

The Flames must have been saying that, too.

Like when Todd Bertuzzi sent a sharp-angled offering that Khabibulin stopped with his outstretched leg while he was on his stomach.

Like when Khabibulin took another hard shot off the mask in the second period, when Calgary could have restored a blown lead.

Or in the early and late portions of the final period when Calgary was frantically trying to find an equalizer.

“We expect him to play well. We expect him to battle for them,” said Flames forward Michael Cammalleri.

“I think we know that going in and therefore it’s our job to make things more difficult for him.

“We need to put more pucks, more tips, more screens and get it by him.”

But is he in their heads, creating all kinds of self-doubt?

“No one’s talked about it and I, personally, haven’t been here,” Cammalleri said.

“You guys have mentioned it to me once or twice, and that’s all I’ve heard of it.”

Adrian Aucoin also disagreed.

“Not that I can see. We’re driving the net and we’re digging hard,” he said.

“Those are going to go in. Our goals were like that, a rebound on a point shot and my goal was guys hanging around the net, and that’s what we need to do.

“When good goalies see the puck, they’re going to make the saves. We’re dug a few, and had some more that almost went in.”

Almost isn’t good enough.

Not when you’re trying to smash down the Wall for good.