Nikolai is still the guy

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Surrendering nine goals in two games at the Saddledome, some thought Nikolai Khabibulin might be watching Game 5 from the bench at the United Center.

Not happening.

Not if you believe Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.

Asked if he considered switching to Cristobal Huet, who rotated with Khabibulin much of the regular season, Quenneville used one word to answer.

"No."

The Hawks players don't believe a move should be made, either.

"I wouldn't expect it," said Hawks defenceman Cam Barker.

"A lot of the goals I don't think have been Khabby's fault at all. I think it's been mental mistakes on our part. We're kind of leaving him out to dry a little bit -- I know I did for sure on that second goal in Calgary.

"We're confident in Khabby, and we know he's confident."

Unavailable to everyone yesterday except, apparently, an NHL.com correspondent, Khabibulin himself wasn't overly concerned with all the chatter about his possible replacement.

"I don't pay attention to that," he told NHL.com. "We win as a team and lose as a team. It's been that way all year, and it doesn't change in the playoffs. We're going to put a lot better effort out on the ice (Saturday)."

He was disappointed after a 6-4 loss at the Saddledome in Game 4, which sent the series back to Chicago tied.

The Hawks scored three times late in the second period to head into the third with the score tied 4-4.

"We rallied to tie, and I couldn't hold it," Khabibulin said. "It was a disappointing game."

Khabibulin went 25-8-7 in the regular season.

Huet was 20-15-7 as they split starts nearly down the middle.

"If people are trying to say throw Huet in, fine," said Hawks forward Adam Burish. "We're confident in either guy, but with Nikolai having that experience of winning a Stanley Cup, just seeing his confidence back there, it's great for our team."

Quenneville also suggests Khabibulin's 2004 Stanley Cup victory with the Tampa Bay Lightning gives him an edge in experience.

"He's a pro, one of the best goaltenders in the game. And we'll be counting on him," said Quenneville, unconcerned about the nine goals surrendered in the last two games, not including Jarome Iginla's empty-netter that sealed Game 4 for the Flames.

"Nik has been around. He's playoff tested. He's got a great mindset and I think he understands what's at stake. I think he recovers ... and transfers his mindset in the right fashion to get excited for the next game."

His teammates will do their best to support Khabibulin a little better.

"The problem rests with us," said captain Jonathan Toews.

"I think, in a lot of ways, it's more about how well we play in front of him and the chances we give up, and how we limit those chances.

"I think he's gonna be there no matter what and make at least one or two good saves a game that could be difference-makers."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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