Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin gets nice ovation from Tampa Bay Lightning fans in return

TAMPA — Nikolai Khabibulin said he didn't know what fan reaction would be when he hit the Tampa Bay Times Forum ice for the first time since winning Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final for the Lightning.

"Hopefully," the Oilers goaltender said before Thursday's game, "it will be nice."

He need not have worried. He received a nice ovation when recognized on the scoreboard during a timeout. "He's a big part of Tampa and its history with the Lightning," C Vinny Lecavalier said. "He definitely deserves it."

It is head-shaking it took Khabibulin so long to again play in Tampa. On his first trip back, with the Blackhawks in 2005-06, then-coach Trent Yawney sat him, saying his appearance would be a distraction.

On two more occasions, once more with the Blackhawks and once before with the Oilers, Khabibulin was injured. He has beaten Tampa Bay twice, in November 2007 at Chicago and November 2010 in a shootout at Edmonton.

"It feels good, a lot of good memories," Khabibulin, 39, said of finally returning.

An especially good memory is carrying the Cup after Game 7.

"That's probably one of the best memories for hockey for me," he said. "It's the goal every kid dreams of. Once you achieve that, it's a great feeling. When you raise that, it's the ultimate."

"It seems so long ago, especially after a year like this," Lightning W Marty St. Louis said. "I appreciate that year so much, and I owe a lot of that to 'Habby.' "

To read the entire interview with Khabibulin, go to tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.

WORLD VIEW: If he is feeling up to it, Steven Stamkos said, he will play for Canada in the world championships May 4-20 in Helsinki and Stockholm.

"Any time you get a chance to represent your country, I've jumped on that," Stamkos said. "If I feel good, I'll definitely go."

The center has an undisclosed injury that, though concerning, is not bad enough to sideline him.

"We continue to monitor," GM Steve Yzerman said. "We're not going to do anything to a player that could create any kind of significant damage."

CATCHING UP: Stamkos is on a season-high four-game streak without a point. Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, with two goals Thursday, has seven in his past five games and cut Stamkos' lead in the goals race from 12 (50-38) to five (50-45).

Stamkos scored five-hole on Khabibulin during the shootout. Had he missed, the Oilers would have won 1-0.

"I had lots of chances and try to stay as positive as I can," he said. "If you're not getting chances, then you start to worry."

Stamkos had six shots, missed the net on two others and had three blocked. Khabibulin stopped his big first-period slap shot and his second-period breakaway. Stamkos, at the side of the net, also whiffed on a perfect set-up from Ryan Malone.

"It's just not going in," coach Guy Boucher said. "If he doesn't get chances, we'll worry. But he's getting tons of chances."

"It's going to come," Stamkos said, "sooner or later."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Boucher said Lecavalier (fractured hand), C Nate Thompson (upper body) and RW Adam Hall (upper body) aren't close to returning. Lecavalier is in the middle of his four- to six-week window. "No setback," Boucher said. "It's just taking longer."

ODDS AND ENDS: The surgery RW Ryan Shannon had Tuesday repaired a torn labrum in his right shoulder. … Shannon, Hall, Thompson, D Bruno Gervais and G Mathieu Garon (groin) were the official scratches.

Edmonton Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin gets nice ovation from Tampa Bay Lightning fans in return 03/22/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 23, 2012 12:40am]

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