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Tampa Bay Lightning's Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier urge fans to salute Nikolai Khabibulin



Nikolai Khabibulin will be in net for Edmonton Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It will be the first time Khabibulin plays at the Tampa Bay Times Forum since Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. The Lightning plans to recognize Khabibulin on the scoreboard, and Tampa Bay wing Marty St. Louis -- one of two holdovers from the Lightning's Cup team, with Vinny Lecavalier -- urged fans to salute one of the key players in the team's championship run.

"I hope they give him an ovation," St. Louis said. "I'd clap."

"Oh, yeah, I definitely would," Lecavalier said of putting his hands together. "He's a big part of Tampa and its history with the Lightning. He definitely deserves it."

Khabibulin enjoyed the compliment.

"It's definitely a great feeling when your ex-teammates speak of you nicely," he said. "I hope that I was a good teammate when I was here, and if they say that it probably proves it a little bit."

What does it mean for Khabibulin to be back?

"It's just a good feeling overall," he said. 

It's amazing Khabibulin has gone eight years without playing in Tampa. Part of that is he has spent those years with the Blackhawks and Oilers, teams that have not come to town that often. The first time the Blackhawks came to Tampa during the 2005-06 season after Khabibulin signed with them as a free agent, coach Trent Yawney decided to not play Khabibulin, saying it would be too much of a distraction. Two other times, once with Chicago and once with Edmonton, Khabibulin was injured.

He did, though, did beat the Lightning in November 2007, in Chicago, with 21 saves in a 5-1 win; and in December 20109, in Edmonton, with 38 saves in a 4-3 shootout win.

But his time away from Tampa has not diminished what Khabibulin meant to the Lightning's Stanley Cup run.

St. Louis said he used to love when scoreboard graphics would show another brick being put in a wall -- a tribute to Khabibulin's nickname: the Bulin Wall -- when the goalie would make a big save. Beyond that, St. Louis said, "You don't go anywhere without a goalie. Look at the top teams in the league. That's why we were a top team in the league. We had a good team in front of him but it started with him."

"It seems so long ago," St. Louis added, "especially after a year like this year. I appreciate that year so much with what we've gone through last year, getting this far and not winning it, and this year. It seems so long ago and I owe a lot of that to Habby."

"He's one of those goalies that stole games," Lecavalier said. "I hope the fans give him a nice welcome back. He was a huge part of our team. He's a great goaltender and a great guy. I think the fans definitely will treat him well."

[Last modified: Thursday, March 22, 2012 2:18pm]


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