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.