"You can never predict what's going to happen in this life."
The above is Evgeni Nabokov's favorite reply when asked if he thought he'd be posing for a photo in the home dressing room at Nassau Coliseum with the puck from his 300th career victory. No one could have expected this, not after the way his relationship with the Islanders began a year ago after he was claimed off waivers.
So here he was Saturday night, having received the accolades for becoming the 26th goaltender in NHL history -- and just the second born in Russia or its former Soviet republics -- to reach the milestone. He did so with a 4-2 win over the Sabres that marked his 11th straight start, with Al Montoya recovering from a concussion and Rick DiPietro likely done for the season with a sports hernia.
"When I say that -- you never know what's going to happen in this life -- I don't mean just hockey," said Nabokov, 36, after running his record this season to 7-11-0 with a 2.64 goals-against average. "You can never say you know what's coming next, and I really felt that from the day I came here. Now I'm loving all of it."
Nabokov is playing for the $570,000 veteran minimum, the deal he agreed to last Jan. 20 with the Red Wings before the Islanders stepped in, claimed him and tolled Nabokov's contract to this season after he refused to report.
Nabokov's play during the last month is a sign that even if the Isles won't be trading him for a middling draft pick before the Feb. 27 deadline -- his value isn't much higher yet -- Nabokov could earn a bigger one- or two-year deal for next season. That's something he wouldn't take in the summer of 2010, when he signed a four-year, $24-million deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. He was let out of that contract after three months.
"When I went to Russia, I didn't know how many wins I have," he said. "Someone told me when I came back this summer that I needed seven more for 300 . . . It's a big number. I hope there will be more to come."