Rambler's Top100


3 2006 . 
'Weird' setback has Khabibulin stewing // Chicago Tribune

By Bob Foltman

Some injuries are easier for an athlete to accept than others.

Take the injuries that have sidelined Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin the last two seasons.

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There was a groin injury last year. That's a big one for goaltenders because it affects their lateral movement. If you can't move side to side, you're not going to be very successful in goal.

Then there was the sprained knee shortly after that. Knees are important for athletes no matter what the sport.

But the latest injury to Khabibulin is a little harder for him to come to grips with.

Khabibulin broke the index finger on his right hand during pregame warm-ups Oct. 2l against the St. Louis Blues, then played the whole game.

If Khabibulin manned any other position, he probably would have kept playing through the injury. But the finger is on the hand with which he holds his stick, and a goalie's stick sees plenty of action in a game, absorbing shots traveling 100 m.p.h.

That creates a lot of vibration in the stick, which the handand broken fingermust absorb. That means a lot of pain.

"It's definitely weird," Khabibulin said. "It's just a finger. But at the same time, if I can't hold the stick, it doesn't do me any good."

The injury is about as fluky as they come, considering Khabibulin's right hand is supposed to be protected by a big blocker. But the shot somehow found its way under the blocker and smashed the finger.

Khabibulin is targeting Thursday night's game at New Jersey to return. But he acknowledges:

"I haven't stopped any pucks yet. Right now it's better but the vibration still hurts."

With backup Brian Boucher filling in admirably since Khabibulin went down, there may be no need to rush Khabibulin back before he's ready.

"I watched the game in Philadelphia, and [Boucher] was terrific," Khabibulin said of the 3-0 loss. "If it wasn't for him the game could have been over after the first period. I thought he played unbelievably."

Since taking over for Khabibulin, Boucher is 0-5 with a 3.42 goals-against and .879 save percentage. Overall he's 0-7, 3.75 and .874. The stats might be misleading because Boucher has given the Hawks a chance in each of the five games. In three, the Hawks were shut out.

"When you have no wins, you have to look at yourself in the mirror," Boucher said after Thursday night's 2-1 loss to the Red Wings, another game that could have been more lopsided in Detroit's favor. "I'm not going to say I've played well."

Despite the numbers, Boucher clearly is a leap up from the backups Khabibulin had last season, such as Craig Anderson and Michael Leighton. Watching from the sidelines, Khabibulin sees a team that just can't put together all the parts of the game at the same time.

"We have to play better defense, for sure, but we also have to score some goals," he said. "We can't just score goals and not play defense or just play defense and not score goals."

Khabibulin said that for at least the first couple of games back, he'll just have to tolerate the pain. The trainers will try to rig his glove to save the finger from the vibration, but he isn't planning to change his equipment much. He doesn't like to do that during the season.

"I'll just try to fight through it," he said. "It's frustrating in that it's a little injury that actually hurts. And watching the team struggle, I really want to go and help." 

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