TAMPA - It seems almost unfair to blame him. He played so well for so long. In fact, he might have given his best performance of an already-impressive postseason, a postseason few thought he was capable of having.
To pin the blame on him is like blaming Ben Franklin for messing up the kite.
But in the end, in the biggest game of his career, in the biggest game in Lightning history, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin ever-so-slightly stumbled. Just a wee bit.
He didn't flop completely. He didn't land square on his face. But he snagged his toe, like you would lurch over a bump in a carpet.
It was just enough to lose.
Khabibulin played brilliantly in the Lightning's 3-2 overtime loss. He made 33 saves. His first period performance of 10 saves kept the score 1-1.
It should have been 4-1. It could have been 6-1. His kick save against Calgary star Jarome Iginla might have been the best of the postseason and, just maybe, the best of his career.
"He made some great saves that certainly kept us in the game," Lightning forward Fredrik Modin said.
To a man, the Lightning criticized its own first two periods and the only reason it survived to get to overtime was Khabibulin.
"They were outshooting us two-to-one at one point," forward Chris Dingman said. "If it wasn't for Nik, the game would not have even been close."
The Flames outshot the Lightning 25-12 through two periods, yet led only 2-1.
Ah, but that second goal.
When this game was over, Khabibulin had allowed one goal that could have him waking in a cold sweat in the middle of the night two months from now. Or six months. Or 20 years.
The overtime goal? No.
Khabibulin couldn't do much on that one. He was sprawled on the ice, desperately trying to keep overtime going, but Oleg Saprykin kept whacking away until he punched a hole through the Bulin Wall.
No, the goal that could haunt Khabibulin was Iginla's second-period goal that gave the Flames a 2-1 lead.
Iginla raced down the right side and snapped a shot from the right faceoff circle into the far side of the net, just past Khabibulin's stick, off the post and in the net.
The shot was dazzling. It might have been perfect. It was hard, accurate. If Iginla only had the size of a quarter to work with then he practically knocked the spot into two dimes and a nickel.
"It was great to finally see one sneak by him," Iginla said.
To criticize him for allowing a goal on such a superior shot probably isn't fair. But is that the kind of shot that must be stopped if a team is trying to win a Stanley Cup?
None of the Lightning would bite.
"He did his job," center Tim Taylor said. "He played great. He did what he was supposed to do.
"Too bad we weren't there to support him. Nik played great and I expect he will play great in Game 6."
The Lightning heads to Calgary with this peaceful thought. Khabibulin is 6-0 in games after losses in the postseason.
To erase Game 5, though, Khabibulin will need to go 2-0 the rest of the season.