MONTREAL — The battle is still on between Chicago’s Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin for the starting goaltender’s job in the NHL playoffs.
It appeared that Khabibulin had wrested the job from a struggling Huet when he started five games in a row, including a string of three straight wins at home, in the past two weeks, but coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday that a true No 1. goalie has yet to be decided.
He tapped Huet to play Tuesday night in Montreal against the team that traded him just over a year ago, but Khabibulin will be back in goal when the Blackhawks return home Wednesday night to face the St. Louis Blues.
“We’ll see how it goes along,” Quenneville said. “Khabby had a nice stretch where he played every game for a while, but we don’t have to forecast exactly how it will be.
“We will determine that as it goes along.”
It is a unique goaltending situation in Chicago, which has two veterans who between them are earning more than US$12 million.
Khabibulin makes $6.750 million this season as he finishes off a $27-million, four-year contract signed in 2005.
Huet inked a four-year deal as a free agent last summer that pays him $5.625 million this season.
The two have shared the net almost equally, with Khabibulin playing in 36 games, while Huet was to appear in his 40th against the Canadiens.
Together, they have helped put a young Blackhawks team that just missed the playoffs last season into a race with Vancouver for fourth place in the NHL Western Conference, although the Canucks helped their cause with a 4-0 win in Chicago on Sunday, in which Khabibulin allowed four goals on 23 shots.
“Both guys deserved the net,” said Quenneville “Usually you go with one guy and the other guy supports him, but they both played so well, it was an easy situation.
“They just kept rotating. We thought at some point it would sort itself out. But Khabby got hurt and Huet had the net and then Khabby came back. I think it will sort itself out before the end.”
The 36-year-old Khabibulin returned March 8 after missing 12 games and promptly lost his first two starts while the Hawks went through a 1-5-2 skid.
But after Huet played in a 4-3 loss at Columbus, Khabibulin started all five games on a homestand, going 3-1-1.