Haggerty: Khudobin proves plenty in Bruins debut

Haggerty: Khudobin proves plenty in Bruins debut

OTTAWA Anton Khudobin is a little more well-known in the Bruins dressing room than one might have originally thought.

He materialized out of the minor leagues in Minnesota last season and dominated in four games with the Wild before getting traded to Boston and that was on the mind of former Wild teammate Greg Zanon. The rugged defenseman was expecting nothing less when the native of Kazakhstan debuted for the Black and Gold Thursday night at Scotiabank Place, and he wasnt disappointed.

I wasnt worried at all, said Zanon when asked if he worried about doing anything extra to protect the young goalie in his first start with the Bruins. I know Khudobin from Minnesota and he played three or four big games for us last year. Same sort of situation and he came in and stole the show.

If he sees the puck or if any of our goaltenders see the puck theyre going to stop it. Thats what weve been working on over the last 11 games: clearing out the lanes so the goalies can get a view and then clearing the puck away from the net.
Perhaps even Zanon slightly arched an eyebrow when Khudobin stopped 44 pucks en route to a 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place, and won his first game with Boston. More importantly it set everybody in the Bruins organization at ease should Tuukka Rask be unable to start the postseason as Bostons backup goaltender due to a groinabdomen strain.

Khudobin admitted he was a little surprised the nervous butterflies waited to hit him until just before the game started, but perhaps that wasnt such a bad thing. The 25-year-old wasnt fazed at all by the 17 shots he faced right out of the starting gate in the first period. Instead he seemed to make every single save in the book.

Khudobin stuffed Daniel Alfredsson at the right post on a wraparound attempt early in the game, he twice stoned Nick Foligno on hot shots from point blank range, and he snapped away at an Alfredsson sizzling shot in the third period with his quick glove hand.

Khudobin certainly had his favorite save afterwards.

There were good, smart shots. They know where to put the puck and shooting through guys legs and stuff, said Khudobin. I was trying to just pick up the shots to see where they came from.

That last shot on Alfredsson? I think that was pretty good save.

He was clearly a little lucky too.

All-World defenseman and Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson had a wide open one-timer at a vacant net on an odd-man rush with six minutes to go in the third period, but the young blueliner fired wide left with his shot. It was a rare misstep offensively for the ridiculously talented Karlsson, and it was a costly one for Ottawa as well. Less than two minutes later, Milan Lucic buried an insurance goal for the Bruins that saddled the Sens with bitter defeat, and kept the option alive that Boston could face either Ottawa or Washington in the first round of the playoffs.

The only goal to elude Khudobin was hardly the affable goaltenders fault. Jason Spezza fired a shot from the slot area that bounced off the back of Andrew Ferences ankle, hit the far post and then caromed off Khudobins left leg before settling in the back of the net. It was a true pinball goal, and otherwise Khudobin left plenty for his teammates and coaches to rave about.

There was no doubt he was our best player tonight. It was nice to see because hes been playing well in Providence. Theres an opportunity he may start with us in the playoffs if Tuukka isnt ready, said Claude Julien. He just proved that hes a good goaltender. He was very deserving of the accolades because if it werent for him the score might have been very different.

He moved well and he found pucks. There were times when he was screened, but he found the puck and put his body in front of it. Its not about flashy saves. Its about making the saves, and his body was in front of the puck all night. They couldnt get anything through him.

If something should happen to Tim Thomas in the first round of the playoffs with Rask unready to resume as the backup goaltender, Khudobin handed his new teammates the kind of confidence that hell rise to the occasion.

It was the first time Ive seen him play. He played really, really well and was especially good in the first period, said Milan Lucic. He was definitely our first star out there tonight.

Even better Khudobin gave the Bs a glimpse of what could be in store for Boston next season.

With Rask entering restricted free agency and the Bs wondering what to do with Thomas in the final year of his contract with Boston, Khudobin has a one-way contract next year that should land him Boston or elsewhere in the NHL. That was a big consideration in him coming back to the Bruins rather than opting for the big bucks of the KHL prior to this season.

I was thinking that I hadnt played three full years in the AHL, so I thought that Id play one year in the AHL, said Khudobin. Obviously my contract is different next year, so Ill get to the next level.

Things didnt go completely by plan for the Bruins or their No. 1 goaltender of Kazakhstan when he was hurt while Rask went with injury last month, but one auspicious debut has brought Khudobin full-circle to where he needs to be.

His Herculean effort between the pipes against the Senators was simply another reminder that hell be helping somebody in the NHL whether its in Boston or somewhere else.

With one fell swoop Khudobin has proven hes so much more than the simple punch line to some trite Qdoba joke.

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics hoping to sign Horford, bring him to Durant meeting

Report: Celtics hoping to sign Horford, bring him to Durant meeting

The Celtics met with Al Horford Friday and it appears they’re trying to get him to sign before their meeting on Saturday with Kevin Durant.

Multiple outlets have already suggested that theory, but Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy tweeted late Friday that’s actually what the Celtics are attempting to do. It's similar to what the Suns tried last summer by signing Tyson Chandler and then bringing him to their meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge. They almost did have Aldridge signed, but he changed his mind over the 48 hours between his meeting and his decision.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, it sounds like Horford wants to take the weekend before deciding, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

If the Celtics are able to get Horford agree to a max contract Friday, it’d likely be a huge boost to their chances of signing Durant. But they might have to wait a bit.

OFFSEASON

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are poised to do the seemingly unthinkable: acquire an elite free agent in their prime. 

The Celtics are meeting with four-time all-star Al Horford tonight and as one league executive told CSNNE.com, Boston has emerged as a front-runner for his services after the Atlanta Hawks came to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard. 

And the Celtics will come armed with a four-year, $113 million max-salary offer for the 30-year-old Horford as well.   

In addition to the Celtics, Horford is also reportedly considering signing with the Houston Rockets.

Acquiring Horford would bolster the Celtics’ franchise on multiple levels. For starters, he would provide an upgrade roster-wise to a team whose progress has leveled out the last couple of seasons with first-round playoff exits.

Adding Horford greatly enhances the Celtics’ chances at making a playoff run that extends beyond just the first round. Adding Horford also provides the first real tangible sign that the days of Boston being perceived as no man’s land when it comes to free agents are in the past.

In addition, Horford’s leadership on the floor and inside the locker room can only strengthen a culture that’s deeply rooted in accountability.

But as the Celtics approach their recruitment of Horford with cautious optimism, they know all too well that they can’t afford to take anything involved in wooing him for granted.

While the Rockets may appear to be a team that Boston doesn’t have to worry too much about when it comes to Horford, there is one wild card franchise out there: Oklahoma City.

They’re the odds-on favorite to re-sign Kevin Durant, and adding a player like Horford to the roster could only strengthen their chances of keeping him long-term.

Oklahoma City has explored possible trade opportunities centered around Enes Kanter, which could go far in freeing up space to pursue Horford.

And as one of the six teams that Durant will meet with this weekend, the Celtics are well aware of the minefield that awaits them in trying to secure Horford as well as their top target, Durant.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the top two free agents out there (Durant and Horford), speaks volumes as to how far this franchise has come from a perception standpoint in the eyes of the league’s best players.

Both Horford and Durant have talked in glowing terms about the Celtics franchise, head coach Brad Stevens and the players.

And the Celtics have made no secret about wanting both to eventually become Celtics, something that now stands as a legit possibility with Boston well in the mix for both players.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

Bruins make official free agent signings of Liles, Nash, Khudobin

The Bruins made a number of signings official on the first day of NHL free agency on Friday along with the big prize in hard-hitting, productive center David Backes.

Backup goaltender Anton Khudobin signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million per season to return as a goaltending tandem with Tuukka Rask as they were back in a highly successful 2012-13 NHL season.

Hustling, grinding fourth line forward Riley Nash was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Bruins as well, and had nine goals and 22 points in 64 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season in an energy forward role. In his five-year NHL career, Nash has played in 242 games, amassing 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points with 69 penalty minutes, including a career-high 10 goals a couple of years ago with the Hurricanes.

The 36-year-old John-Michael Liles signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bruins after arriving from Carolina at the NHL trade deadline last spring. Liles appeared in 17 games and notched six assists along with a minus-6 rating for the Bruins in 2015-16 after being acquired for Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round pick and a 2017 fifth-round pick on February 29, 2016. Prior to joining up with Boston, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Liles played in all 64 games for Carolina, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points with 16 penalty minutes.

“We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop.

“He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity.”

Tommy Cross, Tyler Randell and Tim Schaller all signed one-year, two-way deals with the Bruins for an NHL value of $600,000, but are all expected to play the bulk of the season at the AHL level barring anything unexpected. 

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs