EDMONTON, Alberta | Nikolai Khabibulin was relieved to hear the sound.
“It was nice to hear a couple of the goal posts that didn’t go in,” he said. “Sometimes you need that.”
Later on Thursday night, the Edmonton Oilers’ veteran goaltender heard an even better sound – fans chanting “Khabby” as he wrapped up a 2-1 win over the Capitals amid a playoff atmosphere at Rexall Place.
Khabibulin got some breaks but was stellar in stopping 34 of the Caps’ 35 shots, as Washington tilted the ice toward him in the first and third periods.
“The guy’s incredible,” said Oilers forward Jordan Eberle, who scored in the first. “He played unbelievable tonight. He got us that win. He’s been so solid back there as far as making saves when we give opportunities to them.”
It’s still October, but Khabibulin’s performance was almost playoff-like, too, albeit in a one-game circumstance. With his team clinging to the lead and the Caps dominating play early in the third, the 38-year-old made some big stops, including one on Dennis Wideman 1:37 in.
“Once that first five minutes [passed] and we didn’t get one with the pressure we had on it, and then the first power play when he made that stop on Wideman, I said, ‘It’s going to be tough to score on this guy tonight,’ ” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We threw everything we could at him, but he was good.”
Alex Ovechkin had another chance midway through the final period but rang his shot off the cross bar.
“I don’t know what to say – Khabby was great,” Oilers coach Tom Renney said.
The Caps were almost left similarly speechless.
“Yeah, I mean they had a great goalie,” Nicklas Backstrom said flatly.
They had their chances both in the first 10 minutes of the first period and most of the third. Penalties that took away the flow of the game in the second turned around in the third, but even power plays weren’t enough to crack the “Bulin Wall,” a nickname that developed from his Stanley Cup-winning season in Tampa Bay.
“I think we played a good third period. He played good and he stopped almost all the shots,” Caps center Marcus Johansson said. “We created chances, but we couldn’t get the puck in. that’s what happens some nights.”
On the other side, Tomas Vokoun was as good as could be expected, stopping 17 of 19. Edmonton’s two goals came basically on empty nets after sharp passing and odd rebounds on the power play. Afterward, he and teammates lamented not being able to break through but also saluted Khabibulin for his performance.
“We had our chances to at least get a point; their goalie played great, and they had some luck, hit the post a few times in the third period,” Vokoun said. “Sometimes that’s just going to happen – they have a little bit more puck luck today than us.”
For Khabibulin, the sound of puck luck was the ringing of the post.