'Bulin Wall showing cracks

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Brick-by-brick, shot-by-shot, the 'Bulin Wall appears to be crumbling.

You remember the old Nikolai Khabibulin?

He was the much-ballyhooed fortress, forever turning back the attack of the Calgary Flames. He was the puckstopper fans around here have regarded as a key reason the city did not revel in victory after the 2004 Stanley Cup battle.

And in the post-season war being waged with the Chicago Blackhawks, he was a 'keeper whose resistance -- pundits believed -- would ensure a first-round deathblow to the Flames in the 2009 NHL playoffs.

Well, the new Khabibulin -- having allowed nine goals and a pair of wins to the Flames in the last two games -- is now showing signs of weakness.

"He won the Stanley Cup, so I'm sure he has the experience," said Flames head coach Mike Keenan, being coy when asked Wednesday night if his troops have finally found chinks in the armour of the Russian goaltender.

"The only thing I can give you specifically is we won two games against him."

And they've done it with a convincing assault -- at least, in terms of finding the twine behind Khabibulin. Even though the Blackhawks out-shot the Flames by 15 in Games 3 and 4 at the Saddledome, the hosts popped four more pucks past the enemy goaltender than did the visitors versus Miikka Kiprusoff.

Where Khabibulin came to Calgary seemingly unsolvable to the Flames -- with a 6-2 playoff record, including victories in the first two games of the series and the '04 NHL championship against the Western Conference club -- Calgary's charges suddenly seem to have discovered a few holes in his defence.

"We'll keep that to ourselves," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, with a big grin, when asked about the quick turnaround offensively against the Hawks 'tender.

"We just gotta keep going at him. We just gotta keep believing we can score on him. Just keep putting shots there, keep getting there and keep having confidence we're going to find ways to score on him."

In Game 4, the Flames fired an unspectacular 26 pucks at the Blackhawks netminder, and he turned aside just 21.

In Game 3, the hosts had 28 shots on Khabibulin -- again, hardly a significant count -- and he was beaten four times.

The nine goals by the Flames is much improved from just two surrendered by Khabibulin in each of the first two games of the series in Chicago. That's comparable to the goalie's game in the '04 Cup final, when the 'Bulin Wall was at his best, allowing the Flames to light the lamp just 14 times during the seven-game series -- again, a two-goals-per-game statistic.

"We can't look at history, because everything's different now," said veteran defenceman Jordan Leopold, a member of the Flames frustrated by Khabibulin's Stanley Cup success five years ago.

"It's one of those things where we're doing the little things -- getting pucks on the net and finding rebounds -- and we're scoring goals as a result of it.

"It's simple -- it's playoff hockey. Everybody knows it," Leopold continued. "There's no secret formula. Just get the puck on net, go really hard and look for opportunities to put it in the net."

It's a plan they intend to execute in Chicago tomorrow.

"We're going to crash the net, keep shooting ... and try to get even more shots," said Flames centre Olli Jokinen.

"Any goalie at this level that sees the puck, most likely they're going to make the save," added Jokinen, who beat Khabibulin for two goals Wednesday night.

"The good example for us was (Adrian) Aucoin's goal -- (Eric) Nystrom made an unbelievable screen. That shot doesn't go in if we don't have guys in front of the net paying the price."


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