DENVER (AP) -- Nikolai Khabibulin's big contract is starting to
look a little better.
Khabibulin played his best game in goal after a shaky start to
his career in Chicago, and the Blackhawks scored on all three
chances in a shootout to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 Friday
"It was definitely better for me," Khabibulin said. "I think
mentally it was easier. After a rough first four games, it was
easier for me."
Khabibulin led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup title before the
lockout and was Chicago's big offseason pickup after the Blackhawks
lured him away from the Lightning with a four-year, $27 million
contract. He didn't live up to the billing through the first four
games, allowing 15 goals with a save percentage of .847 -- two of
the worst marks in the NHL.
Khabibulin certainly looked worth the money against the
Seeing pucks in traffic and adjusting well to cross-ice passes,
Khabibulin made tough saves look easy and kept his ground as
Colorado bounced numerous rebounds at him. He stopped 27 shots,
including a pair that led to Kyle Calder's go-ahead goal late in
"He made some good saves. You aren't going to win without good
goaltending," Chicago coach Trent Yawney said. "He looked a lot
calmer to me than he has all year."
Colorado's Peter Budaj wasn't bad, either.
He stopped 16 shots to win his NHL debut over the weekend and
turned away 38 against the Blackhawks, including 16 in a
back-and-forth second period.
Budaj just couldn't do it once the shootout started.
After Colorado's Alex Tanguay matched Tyler Arnason on the first
shot of the shootout, rookie Marek Svatos missed the net after
Chicago's Tuomo Ruutu scored at the other end. That meant Budaj
would have to stop Pavel Vorobiev or the game would be over.
Vorobiev used a fake to get Budaj to lean, then flipped it past the
goalie's glove side to seal the Blackhawks' second win of the
"He's unhappy with the shootout loss, but we all told him he
was the reason we got there," Colorado's John-Michael Liles said.
"He made a lot of critical saves throughout the game. Not getting
to a shootout is something we have to take care of."
Jaroslav Spacek scored on a shot through traffic in the first
period, and Calder put the Blackhawks up 2-1 with six minutes left
in regulation, lifting in a rebound after Budaj made a difficult
save against Arnason.
But Chicago, just like it had all game, couldn't keep players
out of the penalty box. After failing on two brief two-man
advantages early, Colorado capitalized this time, with Liles
getting a hard slap shot past Khabibulin with 2:03 left in
Chicago was called for 13 penalties -- 11 in the first two
"We have to avoid the penalties," Ruutu said. "It's too easy
to fall behind big with them. You make a few mistakes and you're
down two or three goals."
Joe Sakic tied Maurice Richard for 21st on the NHL list with his
544th career goal on a power play midway through the first period
and Liles extended his points streak to four games.
What hurt the Avalanche was the power play. The Avalanche worked
it around for good shots and got plenty of traffic in front of
Khabibulin, but just couldn't get the pucks to go in, finishing
"Our power play wasn't very effective," Avalanche coach Joel
Quennveille said. "We hit a lot of pads tonight, and we did not
get a lot of shots through. They did a nice job of getting into the
Colorado just missed on a couple of shots during its first
5-on-3 midway through the first period, then broke through for the
game's first goal as Spacek skated from the penalty box.
Brett McLean set it up by threading a pass through the crease,
and Sakic finished it off with a one-timer that beat Khabibulin to
the stick side and tie the "Rocket." The fans got to their feet
after the milestone was announced and Sakic acknowledged the cheers
by waving his hand from the bench.
"Obviously, anytime you're mentioned with his name, it feels
pretty special," Sakic said. "It still would be nice to win the
Chicago captain Adrian Aucoin missed his third straight
games with a groin strain. ... Colorado's Ian Laperriere played
career game No. 699. ... Sakic has 1,047 points, two behind Dale
Hawerchuk for 15th on the career list.