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Red-hot goalies have Stars fans remembering much fonder times in net

The one-two punch of Bishop and Khudobin has continued an incredible leap by the organization between the pipes

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

There was a time when the Stars were as good as any team in the league when it came to goaltending duos.

From Ed Belfour to Marty Turco to Mike Smith to Roman Turek to Manny Fernandez to Dan Ellis to Johan Hedberg, Dallas had the market cornered, finishing in the top three in goals against average eight out of 10 seasons. It was a glorious time that included seven division championships and 19 rounds of the playoffs.

But then came the dark ages.

It's no coincidence that during a stretch when the Stars have made the playoffs just twice in 10 seasons, they have had goaltending that has been wanting. Including some up and down times for Kari Lehtonen, and a series of failed backup goalie experiments, fans have long been hungering for something better.

Well, it seems the wait is over.

After Saturday's NHL games, the Stars rank second in the NHL in goals against at 2.50 and second in save percentage at .919. That's an incredible leap from two years ago, when the Stars were among the worst teams in the league in both categories. It's also an improvement from last season when they were sixth in GAA at 2.71 and 13th in save percentage at .909.

Video: DAL@NSH: Khudobin turns away Arvidsson, Johansen

"They've been the MVPs of our team, there's no doubt about that," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery of goalies Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. "They have come through for us game after game."

Bishop is showing the potential the Stars saw when they signed him to a six-year, $29.5 million contract in 2017. The former Tampa Bay goalie had been pushed out of the Lightning organization by young Andrei Vasilevskiy and struggled in a short move to Los Angeles, but Dallas believed the 6-foot-7 goalie could be a dominant No. 1 again.

While he was merely good last season with a 2.49 GAA (15th) and .916 save percentage (19th), he has been excellent this season. Bishop ranks third in GAA at 2.25 and fourth in save percentage at .925. He certainly is in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy, and that shouldn't be a surprise as he's twice been a finalist before.

But while the Stars have actually had passable No. 1 goaltending at times in their decade-long drought, they have rarely had top-notch backup play. This season is different, with Anton Khudobin ranking fourth in GAA at 2.39 and third in save percentage at .926.

Saturday was another great example, as Khudobin walked into a very tough start and made 38 saves en route to a 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators. That was the second night of a back-to-back against a Nashville team that seemed very determined to avenge an earlier loss -- Dec. 27 when Khudobin made 49 saves in a 2-0 victory.

Khudobin allowed the Stars to get through a slow start and then helped them get the win after they forged a 3-1 lead in the third period. Those are the performances the Stars have not seen in quite some time from a backup goalie -- and the games that get you into the playoffs. Khudobin is only 9-9-2 on the season, despite his remarkable numbers, but among those wins are Toronto, Calgary, Washington and Nashville twice. He gives the Stars a chance every time he plays, and he picks the team up when they are faced with some of their toughest challenges.

Video: Khudobin dominates between the pipes in Nashville

"He just never stops fighting," Montgomery said earlier in the season. "His ability to compete, his second and third effort is incredible. It's something I would like the rest of our team to have on a consistent basis."

The team is getting closer to that in more recent games. In fact, during this four-game winning streak, the goalies have been great, but they have not been tested as much as in previous games. Odd-man rushes have been reduced and shots have been pushed to the outside. The area in front of the crease has been cleaner, and the passing lanes for opponents have been more clogged.

It's a sign of what the Stars are trying to become as a team.

"I think we're better for sure," said defenseman John Klingberg. "We have had three coaches in three years, so I think that makes things tougher. But we're starting to understand more what we need to do as a team, and we're playing better as a team."

Montgomery said a hand injury to Klingberg that kept the star defenseman out for 18 games earlier in the season forced Dallas to improve its depth and focus on team defense. Now, with Klingberg back and recent addition like Andrew Cogliano and Jamie Oleksiak, the team is starting to hit a more consistent stride.

"That's what we are right now," Montgomery said. "If you have good defense, you're always going to be in every game. And if the goal scoring comes, we're going to start winning games from a couple of goals to several goals. It will come."

Video: BUF@DAL: Bishop shuts down Sabres in shutout win

The players say they feel it, and they are taking pride in the low goals against.

"The buy-in right now is key," said center Tyler Seguin. "It's been preached all year, but we're starting to see the rewards and benefits of it. We're comfortable winning games 1-0. As a goal scorer, I'd like to win 5-1, but I'll take the 1-0, too."

Or 3-1, for that matter.

While we can go back and forth on who deserves more credit -- the skaters or the goalies -- Montgomery said he knows the men in net have to be great over and over and over.

"It's hard to have the attention to detail that we've had the last three games consistently," Montgomery said before the Nashville win. "Other teams are going to make plays at times, and they're going to put you on your heels. The strength of our team is our team defense, our commitment to it, and then our goaltenders at the end of it."

Which is a nice change for this organization.


Long climb

The Stars have struggled with goaltending numbers over the past decade, but are back to a place they used to routinely occupy -- among the best teams in the NHL. Here are the team rankings over the past 11 seasons:

Season -- GAA (Rank) -- Save % (Rank)

2008-09 -- 3.06 (25) -- .891 (29)

2009-10 -- 2.98 (13) -- .905 (19)

2010-11 -- 2.76 (15) -- .910 (16)

2011-12 -- 2.66 (15) -- .914 (9)

2012-13 -- 2.94 (24) -- .905 (16)

2013-14 -- 2.71 (17) -- .911 (17)

2014-15 -- 3.13 (26) -- .895 (29)

2015-16 -- 2.78 (19) -- .904 (23)

2016-17 -- 3.17 (29) -- .893 (30)

2017-18 -- 2.71 (6) -- .909 (13)

2018-19 -- 2.50 (2) -- .919 (2)

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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