EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Nikolai Khabibulin wakes up in Yekaterinburg to look at NHL playoff highlights and beams with satisfaction on the saves made by so many Russian goaltenders.
For the primary time, there have been three Russian beginning goaltenders within the convention finals, with Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning advancing to fulfill for the title. Countryman Semyon Varlamov and the New York Islanders fell to Tampa Bay in time beyond regulation in Recreation 6 of the Japanese Convention finals Thursday night time.
”It’s truly fairly attention-grabbing to expertise this as a result of it has by no means occurred earlier than,” Khabibulin mentioned. ”I might’ve by no means thought this may occur, however it’s occurring.”
From Corridor of Famer Vladislav Tretiak within the Purple Military days to Khabibulin and Evgeni Nabokov final era and guys now like Vasilevskiy, Varlamov and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Russia’s hockey historical past is stuffed with sturdy goaltending. After a several-year hole attributable to the downfall of the Soviet Union, the nation is once more producing a few of the finest on this planet with younger prospects Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Sorokin, Ilya Samsonov and 2020 draft-eligible Yaroslav Askarov making up the subsequent wave of stars.
”It’s loopy now we’ve got all these goalies as a result of earlier than that was our downside, however now we’ve got so many nice goalies,” Washington Capitals winger Ilya Kovalchuk mentioned. ”It says that hockey system is rising in Russia. The goaltenders who’s retired, they assist the system to develop these younger children pretty much as good gamers. It’s nice to see that many guys come to the NHL like Vasilevskiy, Varlamov and all these guys, Bobrovsky. They’re all dominating. It’s nice.”
Nabokov, who lead goalies born within the Soviet Union or Russia with 353 regular-season and 42 playoff wins, helps that course of as goalie coach of the San Jose Sharks. Whereas he offers with professionals, he notices Russian and Finnish goaltending coaches again residence educating the place to very younger gamers.
”It’s obtained just a little bit extra organized,” Nabokov mentioned. ”Now every group have a goalie coach and tons of camps all through summer season the place you may go and be well-detailed they usually put together children technique-wise from early ages.”
The three Russian goalies who made it the furthest within the playoffs have very completely different methods. Vasilevskiy is the 6-foot-3 reigning Vezina Trophy winner with the right mix of fundamentals and athleticism, Varlamov is the poised veteran who could make tough saves look straightforward and Khudobin is the undersized throwback goalie who teammate John Klingberg joked is ”swimming everywhere in the crease” and someway stopping the puck.
As Khudobin mentioned after a recreation a few years in the past, ”I like to save lots of the pucks.” Khabibulin known as Khudobin a contemporary model of three-time Cup winner Martin Brodeur as a result of he performs standing up not like nearly everybody else who depends on the butterfly place to make stops.
”I used to be some highlights of him, and it’s any individual took a goalie from 1990 and put him in a time machine and obtained him into 2020,” Khabibulin mentioned. ”However however he does the job.”
Possibly with out Khabibulin’s invitation to participate in an internet goalie faculty chat, Khudobin wouldn’t be one of many prime performers in his first NHL playoff motion at age 34.
”He was actually shedding curiosity, I suppose, due to the pandemic and we began YouTube channel and began speaking on Zoom with hockey gamers and simply discuss hockey,” Khabibulin mentioned. ”He was one of many friends. We had an important speak. We often do it for about an hour, hour 15 and with him it was nearly two hours.”
Since getting the beginning job when Ben Bishop was injured, Khudobin has gone 12-6 with a 2.54 goals-against common and .921 save proportion and backstopped the Stars into the Stanley Cup Closing. Two years after signing Khudobin to a two-year contract, common supervisor Jim Nill joked he wished it was 5 now.
The Islanders signed Varlamov final summer season to a four-year deal to switch Robin Lehner, who was the one non-Russian goalie within the ultimate 4 wit Vegas. Varlamov had by no means gone this deep within the playoffs earlier than and is a serious cause New York reached the Japanese Convention ultimate for the primary time since 1993.
”Semyon, he was a No. 1 goalie, then he was just a little bit off, then he was No. 1 once more, form of like no one actually paid consideration to him,” Khabibulin mentioned. ”And now he’s there.”
That’s Russian goaltending in a nutshell, and postseason is proof of that. Vasilevskiy, Varlamov, Khudobin, Bobrovsky and Shesterkin have mixed for 37 wins with a 2.28 goals-against common and .921 save proportion.
Nabokov credit this success and Russia’s goalie renaissance to a mixture of extra teaching and pure expertise that’s attainable now within the a long time for the reason that fall of communism there.
”The nation went by way of sure issues and other people simply didn’t take note of hockey that a lot: You’ll be able to’t run hockey colleges, you don’t have sufficient coaches, you may’t rent sufficient coaches,” he mentioned. ”Russian goaltenders all the time been good, but it surely’s been a window the place it’s form of dropped off just a little bit and now it’s again as a result of we all the time had good hockey minds.”