Khabibulin earning paycheck

Nikolai Khabibulin's performances have finally matched his potential to emerge as an elite NHL goaltender.

Updated: May 20, 2004, 12:22 PM ET
By By Jim Wilkie | NHL Insider
Tampa Bay stood by Nikolai Khabibulin during the season when financial considerations nearly forced him to be traded. But now that the Lightning goaltender has been standing tall in the playoffs, he and the club are on the verge of reaping a financial windfall.

The Lightning can advance to the Stanley Cup finals Thursday night with a victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. Tampa Bay is in this position largely because of Khabibulin, who is an incredible 11-3 in the playoffs, leads all goalies with a .945 save percentage and has the second-best goals-against average in the postseason (1.49, behind Detroit goalie Curtis Joseph's 1.39). Khabibulin also has four shutouts, tying Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff for the league lead.

"He's been doing it time in and time out in this playoffs," Lightning goaltender coach Jeff Reese told the St. Petersburg Times. "He has done it in the past in the playoffs, but this year has been a special year for him and he's really risen to the occasion. There's no question, he's doing it on the grand stage here and it's very exciting for our hockey club."