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Khabibulin comes through

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 19, 2004

TAMPA - Nikolai Khabibulin said the only satisfaction he got from Thursday night's game against the Sabres was the 3-1 victory.

That his solid 25-save effort came two days after being criticized by coach John Tortorella for allowing a bad goal in a loss to the Islanders wasn't part of the equation.

"I really don't bother with what was said in the paper," Khabibulin said. "I really didn't think about it. I know I want to improve every game. At the same time I don't take it as a bad game, the last game. I made a mistake on the goal, and I felt like I was reading the game pretty well and moving well.

"It wasn't a matter of confidence or anything. I felt pretty good tonight."

The one blip was Jochen Hecht's tip-in goal that tied the score at 1 with 3:58 left in the second period, 55 seconds after Tampa Bay took the lead.

Rather than dwell on the play, Khabibulin stood tall and made 12 saves in the third period. The best came on Mike Grier's blast from the right-wing boards to preserve a 2-1 lead.

"He made some key saves at key times to keep us there and to give us a chance and to seal it," Tortorella said.

Khabibulin, 10-1-1 in his past 12 games, gave credit to the defense for blocking so many shots and said the physical, close-checking game was a good primer for the playoffs.

"I hope the last eight games, we have more games like that to get ready," he said. "We've been scoring a lot of goals the second part of the season. In the playoffs, it doesn't happen like that too often."

AWARDS: Spokesman Bill Wickett said the team will send out a mailing to push wing Martin St. Louis for the Hart Trophy, given to the league MVP, and the Selke, given to the best defensive forward; center Brad Richards for the Lady Byng, given for sportsmanship; and Tortorella for coach of the year.

The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes on all but coach of the year, which is voted by broadcasters.

"It's nothing that will be done in an aggressive manner," Wickett said. "All we want to do is lay out some numbers for those who don't see us as much in the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division.

"More than anything, it's just, "Don't forget about so-and-so."'

ODDS AND ENDS: The announced crowd of 19,946 was a franchise-best seventh consecutive sellout. ... Richards' assist on Cory Stillman's goal gave him 188 in his career, one off Brian Bradley's franchise record. ... Defensemen Nolan Pratt and Darren Rumble and forward Ben Clymer were scratched.

[Last modified March 19, 2004, 01:20:38]

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