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Khabibulin keeps focus on remaining focused - S.P.Times
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
If there was a moment of truth for Nikolai Khabibulin, it occurred with 14.2 seconds remaining in regulation of Monday's game against the Red Wings.
The Lightning left it all on the ice at Joe Louis Arena and tied the score at 1 in the third period. But there was Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, in the slot with the puck on his stick and a clear shot at the net.
Big game, big moment...
Two days later Khabibulin leaned on a stationary bike in a basement hallway of the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., and explained how playing goal is really the art of repetition.
"Professional athletes in any sport, they practice so much, I think if a situation comes up, you don't have to think about it," he said. "When you make the best decisions, you make them unconsciously because of what you've done in practice over and over and over and over."
The key is concentration, watching the puck, anticipating the play. Khabibulin admitted he sometimes loses concentration, a flaw in his game he is determined to fix before the playoffs.
"I think sometimes I did give up quite a few goals that were stoppable," Khabibulin said. "I would play a good game until the goal goes in that wasn't a great goal that I should have stopped. Then I would play good again. Sometimes it's just a matter of focus."
That focus has been sharp during Khabibulin's 8-0-1 streak. It has been Ginsu-like the past five games in which he has stopped 130 of 139 shots for a .935 save percentage.
"Nik has been playing great," goaltenders coach Jeff Reese said. "His game is starting to round into form at the right time. He's been patient and waiting for the puck to come to him."
"The last three or four games I really tried to focus for the whole game," Khabibulin said. "Not that I didn't try before. I just tried to concentrate a little more and try not to be brain-dead sometimes."
The goalie smiled when he said that, but those lapses in concentration have been no joke.
There was the tying goal in an overtime loss to the Avalanche, the tying and overtime goals to the Canucks, and the tying and overtime goals to the Blues. Don't forget the 12-game stretch that began Jan. 3 in which Khabibulin allowed 36 goals, was 6-5-1 and had an .868 save percentage while Tampa Bay went 16-3-1-3.
Center Vinny Lecavalier said numbers don't matter.
"We believe in Nik," he said. "Everybody goes through slumps. It's how you finish that's most important."
How do goalies keep concentration? Some talk to themselves. Reese said he heard of one who urged teammates to pass him the puck - in safe situations, of course.
Khabibulin, 24-15-7 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, said he tries to play the puck. When the puck is not in the Lightning zone he is more closely following the play.
Khabibulin said he feels more comfortable playing regularly, so starting nine of the past 10 games has helped. He also plays better facing more shots.
That can be a problem. Tampa Bay allows an average of 25.2 shots. During its 25-3-2-4 stretch it has allowed an average of 23.4.
Asked if it is difficult facing fewer shots, Khabibulin said, "Sometimes it is. When that happens I always think of (New Jersey's) Martin Brodeur. He rarely gets a lot of shots, yet he's able to keep focus for 60 minutes.
"I'm feeling good right now. At the same time, every game is different. Whatever happens in that part of a game, I'm going to try to deal with it the best I can."
Which brings us back to Lidstrom, who charged the slot, took a perfect feed from Steve Yzerman and tried to pick a top corner only to be stopped by one of the quickest gloves you will see. Big game, big moment ... big save.
"I was following the play," Khabibulin said. "When you feel better about your game, you anticipate better. It was right there. I didn't have time to think about it."
"He beat the pass and made the save," Reese said. "His positioning was outstanding. He was waiting for the shot."
He was concentrating.
29 января. Khabibulin option likely to be paid
- St.Peterburgh Times
Апрель 03. Николай Хабибулин: "Сегодня сыграл, как
на Олимпиаде!" - Спорт-Экспресс
29 января. Khabibulin option likely to be paid - St.Peterburgh Times
Апрель 03. Николай Хабибулин: "Сегодня сыграл, как на Олимпиаде!" - Спорт-Экспресс