- One of the most important reasons for the Bruins' tremendous success over the past five or six years has been the outstanding play of the team’s goaltenders.
From 2009-12, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask were arguably the best goaltending tandem in the National Hockey League. The two combined to lead the league in save percentage and goals against average for three straight seasons – Thomas in ‘08-’09 and ’10-’11; Rask in ’09-’10.
To begin the 2012-13 season, that consistency is no different, as the B's are sitting at 8-1-1, with No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask posting a 6-1-1 record and Anton Khudobin earning a 2-0-0 record in his two starts for Boston.
"He’s been good," B's General Manager told BostonBruins.com on Rask embracing the No. 1 role this season. "The game against the Canadiens was, for me, it was a kind of statement game for Tuukka. It’s an important rivalry game, it’s a divisional game. He held us in there in the first period. What I like about Tuukka is his long term composure over time. That’s real good for a first-string goalie. He’s been terrific for us, so far."
After the Black & Gold let the Sabres score seven goals in a 7-4 loss on January 31, they have now allowed only two goals through the past three games, two of those games coming with Rask in goal - a 1-0 shutout of Toronto and 2-1 comeback win over Montreal - and the most recent, a 3-1 win over Buffalo, coming with Khudobin making 25 saves between the pipes to earn the game's First Star.
“He’s played well and he looks very comfortable in net for us,” Julien told media on Khudobin's strong play, following the B’s road win. “I don’t know if he feels comfortable with the guys playing in front of him, but he looks comfortable, there weren’t many rebounds, he gobbled everything up. I thought he was solid.”
Khudobin’s ability to step in and play so well has him garnering some much deserved attention. He is no longer an unknown and is quickly showing that the Bruins may still have one of the top goaltending duos in the game.
For the second time this season, after earning the 5-3 win over Carolina on January 28, Khudobin stepped up with a stellar performance. Through the two games, he has posted a 2.00 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, and now has a 6-1-0 career record in the NHL.
Khudobin stopped 25 of the 26 shots he saw Sunday night, coming up with some big saves to keep the Bruins in control, especially during the first period, when he made nearly half of his stops (13).
“Try to stay sharp, try to stop the pucks in practice,” said Khudobin, when asked how he has kept himself ready while sitting out for long stretches. “Just [have] to be ready every game even if I’m not playing. I try to get ready like I’m going to play. Tuukks is playing great, some days when I’m going to play, I’ll be ready.”
The game against the Sabres was supposed to be the second night of a back-to-back for the B’s, but with the blizzard postponing their matchup versus the Lightning on Saturday back in Boston, Head Coach Claude Julien stuck with his plan of playing Khudobin.
“We were looking at the back-to-back games and Tuukka was supposed to play last night and, obviously, we had Dobby picked for this one,” explained Julien. “[Khudobin’s] a good goaltender. At one point it gives Tuukka a little bit of rest here.
“I also think it’s important to keep Dobby as fresh as possible, he’s played well enough to deserve to play. If he didn’t play tonight, I don’t know when we would have been able use him again.”
Julien certainly has confidence in Khudobin and Sunday night’s performance showed why.
"Certainly, as a coach and as an organization, you’ve got to be really pleased with your goaltending right now," Coach Julien said following the Bruins' practice Monday at TD Garden. "As we all know, we lost a pretty good goaltender in Tim [Thomas]. But, to be able to replace him instantly with those two guys and the way they’ve played is pretty awesome."
"In Anton’s case, I think what’s impressive and what’s really helped him be as good as he is right now is how hard he works in the practices and how long he stays and how much extra work he does."
"He seems to understand what he needs to do in order to stay sharp," added Coach Julien. "And that’s what you need from your No. 2 goaltender is that he stays sharp so that when he’s called upon he’s ready to do the job. So far, he’s done a tremendous job of that."
Khudobin’s teammates also realize the tremendous depth they have in between the pipes.
“He did a great job,” said Brad Marchand, who scored the B's first goal in the 3-1 win over Buffalo, in his first game back from injury after leaving the February 2 game in Toronto. “Every time he’s in net, he’s an incredible goalie. He’s a great guy to have backing us up there, he’s confident, he’s poised when he’s out there. It’s like he’s been in the league for a long time. It’s great to see him play the way he does.”
The B's lone regulation loss this season came during a loss to Buffalo where they were not sharp and displayed "uncharacteristic" play. At the time, Coach Julien said it was the worst he can remember his team playing defensively, so heading into Sunday's game against the Sabres, defense was the focus.
Khudobin was a huge part of limiting Buffalo to just one goal this time around, but gave credit to his teammates, who cleared the way in front of him.
“It was great,” said Khudobin of the defensive effort. “I pretty much got rest in the second and third period. I didn’t do much, I just had to stop a couple, pretty much keep it scoreless. The guys played awesome.”
And even beyond the solid play of Khudobin and Rask, there exists a line of capable goaltenders being primed for an opportunity down the line in the B's system.
"We were fortunate enough that our management did a great job of making sure to prepare for the future," Coach Julien said prior to the February 6 game in Montreal. "We've got Tuukka Rask, [Anton] Khudobin has been extremely good for us. You look at [Malcolm] Subban in Belleville. As far as that position is concerned, we're not too worried."