Nikolai Khabibulin’s Best Game

By Jake Ricker

The history of the Tampa Bay Lightning is filled is fan favorites, superstars, and iconic achievements. In our brand-new series, the Bay Bolts crew is going to individually take a look at their favorite alumnus, breaking down their greatest career game. First up: Nikolai Khabibulin.

Nikolai Khabibulin is one of the greatest goalies in Lightning history and was part of the core in the early 2000s that helped put Tampa on the map in the hockey world. Khabibulin joined the Lightning in the 2000-01 season when he was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes. In his second season in a Lightning uniform, 2001-02, Khabibulin put together his best game as a member of the Bolts.

Amid a three-game losing streak, the Lightning were set to take on the New York Rangers. While the Rangers were not the cream of the crop, they still had a plethora of stars: Eric Lindros, Theo Fleury, Brian Leetch, and Mark Messier to name a few. The Lightning, despite looking across the ice at all of this talent, looked to get things moving in the right direction. 

The game started like any other game for the Bolts, with both teams battling it out for the first two periods. Neither team could find the back of the net, with the Rangers putting only 20 shots on goal through the first two periods. Little did Lightning fans realize that the next 20 min would become Nikolai Khabibulin’s masterpiece, and would be his signature moment in a Lightning uniform.

For any new hockey fans: the average amount of shots for a team is about ten in a period. Anywhere between 12-18 is considered high. The Rangers took it a step further, sending 22 shots Khabibulin’s way. As head coach John Tortorella put it, “I thought our whole team played very well tonight, but Nik was outstanding in the last 10 minutes of the game,”

Khabibulin continued to make save after save, no matter how good the shot was. Vincent Lecavalier finally got the Bolts on the board early in the third period off a breakaway goal, so every save that Khabibulin made brought the Lightning closer to the win column. 

By the end of the night, Khabibulin would go on to stop all 42 shots he faced. The Lightning completely ran out of gas in the third period, and with only a one-goal lead Khabibulin had zero room for mistakes. But this wasn’t an issue for “The Bulin Wall” as he shut things any opportunities for the Rangers to tie the game.

In Lightning history, this shutout victory is very historic. Only Darren Puppa and Ben Bishop have had a higher save shutout game. But what makes this game even more impressive to me is that Khabibulin had to face 22 shots in just one period and only had a one-goal lead to defend. This game demonstrates how Khabibulin could put the team on his back and change the outlook of a game in a matter of minutes. Lightning fans knew from this point on that the team had found the goalie they’d been searching for.

I hope you enjoyed learning about this game and let me know if you think there was a different game that you would have picked for Khabibulin. Be sure to let us know what player you want us to talk about next by tweeting us on Twitter! 

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