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Khabibulin happy to return to Tampa

Current Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin will be going up against former Oilers goaltender Dwayne...

Current Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin will be going up against former Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson tonight in Tampa, Fla. (Tom Braid/QMI Agency)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:36 AM ET

TAMPA - Stepping into the Tampa Bay Times Forum brought back a lot of memories for Nikolai Khabibulin.

Surprisingly, the Edmonton Oilers goaltender has not played in the arena since winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

He made his return Thursday, but fell short, losing to former Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson 3-2 in a shootout.

"I had a chance to win it, but I didn't make the stop on (Steven) Stamkos," said Khabibulin. "After that, it kind of fell apart.

"I wanted to win the game, regardless of where we were playing because I haven't won too many games lately. But especially coming back here, I have good memories here, and in front of these fans I wanted to have a good game and hopefully win it."

Khabibulin, 39, played four seasons with the Lightning, culminating in the franchise's only Stanley Cup victory.

Following the lockout, the Russian goaltender signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and made one return to Tampa, but did not get into the game.

"It is strange, the one year was the lockout, but in seven years after that, you would think that I would have played here at least a couple of times," Khabibulin said. "But that's how things worked out, I guess."

Khabibulin turned aside 19 shots in the contest, then stopped three of the Lightning's six shooters in the shootout.

He went into the game with just one win in his last 16 appearances.

"It's got to be frustrating for him and we wanted to get this one for him," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "The guys talked about that and certainly he wanted it.

"We'll keep hammering away, we'll get him one. We're running out of games, but we'll get him one."

Khabibulin has not won a game since Feb. 11 in Ottawa.

It hasn't been all his fault, as his 2.64 goals against average and .911 save percentage will attest.

He had another good outing Thursday, but unfortunately for him, it wasn't good enough to pull out the victory.

Regardless, Khabibulin was glad to be back in Tampa and the fans were happy to see him back. The veteran drew an applause when a video tribute of his time was shown on the score clock in the first period.

"I didn't expect that and I kind of couldn't hear it at first," Khabibulin said. "I thought towards the end, I heard something about five shutouts, then I realized it was about me. It was really great."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNdvandiest


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