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He makes the World a better team

WORLD 8, N.A. 5: Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin makes 20 saves in the All-Star win.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- When it comes to earning MVP honors at the NHL All-Star Game, timing apparently is everything.

Lightning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was an obvious choice after the World Team scored a dramatic 8-5 victory Saturday over North America at the Staples Center.

With 20 saves he became just the fourth goaltender in the past 14 years, along with Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Olaf Kolzig, to pitch a shutout period.

"He's one of the top goalies in the league," Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux said.

"A freak of nature," Philadelphia's Jeremy Roenick said.

But in the minds of the 11 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association who voted he seemed, at the time, just another cog in a whirling third period in which the World scored five times to overcome a 5-3 deficit and four times in the final 3:01.

That last number was the problem.

The league collected MVP ballots with between 10 and five minutes remaining and North America leading 5-4. Khabibulin had made some terrific saves, including one on Roenick's breakaway. But Chicago's Eric Daze had two goals for North America, including the team's fifth.

Daze got the votes and the pickup truck that went with the MVP award. Khabibulin got lots of head rubs from his teammates.

The situation prompted the PHWA to try to establish a more definitive process to make late-game voting changes.

Said PHWA vice president David Neal, who covers the Panthers for the Miami Herald: "I have spoken with (NHL vice president of media relations) Frank Brown about adding safeguards where they officially check with the ranking (PHWA) person present."

Khabibulin, who played in his third All-Star Game, gave his customary shrug when asked about the controversy.

"I didn't even really think about it," he said. "I don't know the history of the game. For a goalie, it's tough to even think about (being the MVP). Players are playing the whole game and goalies are playing only one period."

"I was surprised," Daze said. "We lost the game and he was playing pretty good. He made some pretty good saves in the third period. Well, you know, I'll take it."

And the World team will take the victory, its second in the five years of the World vs. North America format.

Detroit's Sergei Fedorov's beat Phoenix goaltender Sean Burke with a slap shot from the slot at 16:59 to tie the score at 5. Vancouver's Marcus Naslund got his second goal, the winner, from in front of the net at 18:17.

Chicago's Alexei Zhamnov and Carolina's Sami Kapanen scored empty-netters to wrap it up.

Khabibulin shut the door.

He stopped Detroit's Brendan Shanahan on a one-timer two minutes into the period, and stoned Vancouver's Ed Jovanovski with his glove at 14:53.

The topper was his save on Roenick's breakaway at 10:27. It was particularly dramatic because Roenick beat Khabibulin on a breakaway during Friday's skills competition with a fake deke that had Khabibulin way out of position.

Roenick said he did not want to gamble with the move again.

"I thought he wanted to do the same thing as yesterday," Khabibulin said. "I just wanted to be in position so if he scored I wouldn't look as bad as I did yesterday."

"He's awesome," Roenick said. "He missed a year and a half and it's a shame we missed seeing him. He's one of the best in the league. He's got one of the top goals-against averages in the league on a team that's struggling. It's an amazing achievement."

An amazing achievement that did not get the official recognition it deserved.

"No disrespect to Daze," said Islanders and North American right wing Mark Parrish, "Khabibulin was the best player. He made some incredible saves."

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