BostonBruins.com – When Anton Khudobin made his lone start for the Bruins late last season – a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on April 5 – it wasn't expected that the win would serve as somewhat of an audition for this season’s backup goalie spot.
The Black & Gold had one of, if not the best, goaltending tandems in the entire NHL, with Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask manning the crease. But when Thomas decided to take a break from the game last spring, Khudobin suddenly became the favorite to slide into the backup role, behind Rask.
The 26-year-old Khudobin came into training camp this season as the only goalie other than Rask and performed well enough to secure the No. 2 role.
With a shortened schedule, filled with back-to-backs and tons of games packed into a small amount of time, it is expected that the Kazakhstan native would get his share of playing time. To this point, the B’s schedule has been fairly normal, with Rask playing the first four games of the season.
But, Monday’s game against the Hurricanes was the beginning of a grueling stretch for the B’s, who will play four games in six days, including again on Tuesday night back in Boston, against the defending Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils.
It was the perfect time to give Khudobin his first start of the year, and he performed well, stopping 29 of 32 shots in the B’s 5-3 win over the ‘Canes in Raleigh Monday night.
The Bruins struggled late in the second period, when two costly turnovers resulted in them giving up a 3-1 lead. But Khudobin stood tall after the Hurricanes tied it at three, turning away all eight shots he saw from Carolina in the third, and allowing the Bruins to go ahead on a goal by David Krejci, followed an empty-netter from Tyler Seguin that sealed the deal.
“Yeah, that’s always great,” said Khudobin after the game, of the resiliency of his team. “When you bounce back, get the win – that’s the most important to get that W.”
Khudobin added that he felt good in his first appearance of the year, despite some early pressure from Carolina: “Felt great at the start as always, [my] first game of the season pretty much. I tried to expect lots of shots from high [in the zone], maybe they tried to test me. I feel after that I felt good, I stopped a couple shots and the game goes on.”
Head Coach Claude Julien talked this past weekend about having to use both goaltenders with the shortened schedule and that he had confidence Khudobin could step in and do the job when needed.
The B’s bench boss got what he expected on Monday night, pointing to Khudobin’s composure during important parts of the game, especially on the penalty kill – the Bruins remain perfect this season, after a 7-for-7 showing on the PK against the ‘Canes.
“I thought he did a great job,” said Julien, of Khudobin’s performance. “He seemed ready this morning, he was excited about playing. To me, he’s one of those guys that you watch him in practice and you watch him in the game, it’s two different goaltenders. And you saw that last year. Some guys are like that, they’re better game goaltenders than they are practice goaltenders.
“I thought he played a really solid game, it was his first game, they threw everything at him and he faced the shots. I thought he did a great job, handled the rebounds well, the scrambles, they crashed the net a lot. But he was very poised.”
Khudobin’s teammates, too, have plenty of trust in the goaltender’s ability to get the job done when he’s called upon.
“I think he's a great goalie,” said B’s forward Tyler Seguin, whose empty-net goal was his first tally of the season. “I'm looking forward to him playing a lot of games for us this year. Tuuk can't do it every night, so we have the utmost confidence in Dobby.”
Khudobin, who could very well get another start sometime this week with three games in the next five days, is looking to build up his own confidence in himself after his first win of the year.
“It’s always good, it’s always makes your confidence go up,” said the goalie. “But, it’s still just one game and one win. It’s a long time ahead, you have to work on and just keep going.”