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Nikolai Khabibulin has lasting memories of his success with Lightning

Chicago Blackhawks v TampBay Lightning

Chicago Blackhawks v Tampa Bay Lightning

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Updated: November 26, 2013 6:39AM



TAMPA, Fla. — A longtime reporter from the Tampa Bay area gave Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin a once-over Thursday and told him that he looked leaner after all these years.

“I have to be,” Khabibulin said. “I have to keep up with the young guys.”

It’s been nearly a decade since Khabibulin backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup during the 2003-04 season, his last of three full seasons here with the team. But as it was the franchise’s lone championship, the memories are still fresh.

“His time here, he was just the backbone of our team,” said Lightning captain Martin St. Louis, the only player still on the roster from that team. “Without Khabby, I don’t think we’re celebrating a Stanley Cup. … Khabby was ­everything to this team. I remember when we first got him, I couldn’t believe how good he was.”

It was just the second time Khabibulin played at the Forum since leaving the Lightning.

“This is where it all happened,” Khabibulin said. “I like the fans here and I had such a great ­experience here.”

Shooting star

Patrick Sharp entered Thursday’s game with only one goal, but he has two shootout goals in three attempts, clinching victories against the Hurricanes and Panthers. He appears to be the long-awaited answer to who will be the Hawks’ third shooter after Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, two of the top shootout players in the league. That said, Kane is 0-for-4 and Jonathan Toews is 1-for-4, finally scoring against the Panthers. Corey Crawford is a sparkling 9-for-11 in net, and is a big reason the Hawks have won two of their last three shootouts.

“Sharpie’s got two beauties and Jonny got on the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Crow’s been good, gives us a chance every night. [The shootout] hasn’t been producing at the same rate we have in the past, kind of like our offense. But we’ll take the wins, especially two out of three.”

Kostka update

Defenseman Michael Kostka wore a walking boot on Thursday. He’s out four to six weeks with a lower-body injury.



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