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Emphasis on team even on Nik night

John Tortorella admitted he wasn't sure Nikolai Khabibulin Recognition Night was the best idea.

Not that the Lightning coach begrudges his Olympic and All-Star goaltender's accolades, but because it doesn't seem to fit with what Tortorella has preached in an attempt to bring his team together.

"I don't want to be negative, but the drum we're trying to beat here is team concept," Tortorella said. "It concerns me when we start marketing that one guy. I think it's wrong."

Khabibulin is unquestionably the Lightning's MVP. Going into Friday night's game against the Canadiens at the Ice Palace, Khabibulin was tied for second in the league with a .926 save percentage and seven shutouts.

"I understand their excitement," Tortorella said. "Goaltending is the biggest key with this hockey team and Nik is one of the top three goalies in the world."

The first 10,000 fans Friday received cardboard replicas of Khabibulin's mask. He was given a watch and a Tiffany bowl before the game.

"This is not anything against John or his ideas and vision," team president Ron Campbell said. "Nik has played on a world stage and has been ID as one of the best in his profession in the whole world. Why not acknowledge that?"

MASKED MAN: The saying at the bottom of Khabibulin's mask is supposed to read "Bulin Wall," but is misspelled "Boulin."

Khabibulin said he has another mask with the word spelled correctly, but it does not fit as comfortably.

"This one fits nice," he said. "I didn't want to change the mask."

SLOW START: Shane Willis has sputtered since coming in the Kevin Weekes deal. Going into Friday, Willis had no goals and no assists. He had three shots on goal in his previous four games and was minus-3.

"Shane has struggled," Tortorella said. "You can see offensive instincts and offensive talent, but it hasn't come about."

"The thing I have to concentrate on is not getting frustrated," said Willis, who assisted on Tampa Bay's first goal against Montreal. "My year hasn't gone as planned. The thing is to work hard and work your way out of it."

ODDS AND ENDS: Vinny Lecavalier's assist on Nikita Alexeev's goal was his first point in 10 games, his first assist in 21 games and gave him 100 in his career. Andre Roy's goal was his first since being acquired from the Senators March 15. The state high school hockey championships will be Sunday at the Ice Palace. Games will be at 12:30, 1:45 and 3 p.m. Defenseman Grant Ledyard was a healthy scratch.

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO

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