BROOKLYN, NY – Things didn’t go so well last season for the Bruins when Tuukka Rask suddenly wasn’t well enough to play in the last game of the season, so there was good reason for the B’s to be a little nervous when their No. 1 goalie again couldn’t answer the bell Saturday night vs. the Islanders.
Anton Khudobin had won four games in a row headed into Saturday night, of course, and in his previous start he’d helped snap a 10-game winning streak for the Calgary Flames. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when Khudobin stood tall for the Bruins making 18 saves in a tight, nervy 2-1 win over the Isles at the Barclays Center.
“You don’t have that many shots, but maybe 10 scoring chances…that can be tougher than seeing 30 shots and same amount of scoring chances,” said Khudobin. “But I’m glad got the job done, we got our points and we got the ‘W’.”
It wasn’t wall-to-wall action in a game where both teams combined for 37 shots on net, but it was still impressive that Khudobin and the B’s special teams killed off six Islander power plays in such a tight hockey game. After the B’s backup netminder was lauded for the way he battled in the crease and competed for pucks like his team’s very life was on the line in a pivotal game.
“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots. And you kill that many penalties. It was a nice building block for us,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I loved his performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”
One could spend days analyzing Cassidy's words and wondering much of that was deserved, appreciative praise for Khudobin, and how much of that might have been a veiled message to Boston's No. 1 goaltender sitting back home in Boston.
The best save of the night probably won’t even count as a save for the Russian netminder. It was John Tavares, after having beaten Khudobin once in the first period, moving into the offensive zone with speed during a third period power play, and getting an open look at the net front in the high slot. Khudobin thought quickly and dropped into the unconventional double-stack pad save that seemed to throw Tavares off just a little, and the Isles sniper smoked the shot off the crossbar rather than tying up the game.
“I didn’t touch it. I didn’t really have time to get there, so the only thing I tried to do was the two-pad stack, old school Bob Essensa-style,” said Khudobin, who has now improved to 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals against and an .899 save percentage this season. “Then he hit the crossbar. You need to get some luck in this league, and if you don’t get luck you’re going to lose games.”
A little luck and a little good, old-fashioned battling between the pipes was enough for Khudobin and the Bruins in Saturday night’s mammoth win. Now the questions become whether or not to go right back to Khudobin again on Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Oregon lost one of its best players to an injury just before the NCAA Tournament, had to survive two nail-biters to reach the Midwest Regional finals, and then faced a top-seeded Kansas team that had romped to the brink of the Final Four.
Of course, the Ducks would rise to the occasion.
With swagger and verve and downright prolific shooting, the plucky team that everybody wanted to count out rolled to a 74-60 victory over the Jayhawks on Saturday night, earning the Ducks their first trip to the national semifinals in nearly 80 years.
"You feel so good for so many people," said Ducks coach Dana Altman, who is headed to his first Final Four after 13 trips to the NCAA Tournament. "It's a team effort. You feel good for a lot of people."
Indeed, a whole lot of people had a hand in it.
Tyler Dorsey hit six 3s and poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and Jordan Bell finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a virtuoso performance for the Ducks (33-5), who seized the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed the rest of the way.
Now, they'll face the winner of Sunday's game between North Carolina and Kentucky in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona. It will be their first trip since 1939, when the Tall Firs won it all.
Player of the year candidate Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the Jayhawks (31-5), but the offensive fireworks and steady poise that had carried them to a 13th straight Big 12 title fizzled just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right.
Star freshman Josh Jackson was mired in early foul trouble. Sharpshooting guard Devonte Graham never got on track. And the swagger the Jayhawks showed in humiliating Purdue in the Sweet 16 simply evaporated for a team that rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points.
"I'm disappointed for them more than I am for me," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who fell to 2-7 in Elite Eight game, including four defeats as a No. 1 seed. "But the one thing that happened today, and it's hard to admit, the best team did win today."
The Ducks knew everything was stacked against them, but the point was only driven home when their bus passed the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City on the way to the arena. Thousands of fans in red and blue were rallying hours before the tipoff, turning it into a de facto road game.
But the torrid shooting of Brooks, Ennis and Dorsey quickly deflated the sold-out Sprint Center, and sent a warning shot to the Jayhawks that they were in for a fight.
"You've got to give them credit," Graham said. "They hit some big shots."
Foul trouble sent Jackson to the bench for much of the first half, allowing the Ducks carve to out a comfortable lead. Then Dorsey finished the half with back-to-back 3s, including a deep bank shot at the buzzer, as the Ducks pranced to their locker room relishing in a 44-33 advantage.
"When you play hard throughout the whole game," Brooks said, "you catch some breaks."
The Ducks kept dancing in the second half, beating the Jayhawks at their own game: Getting into transition, passing up good shots for better ones and knocking down 3-pointers.
The Ducks' lead swelled to 55-37 when Brooks drilled another shot from the perimeter, and frustration began to creep into the Kansas bench. It was only compounded every time Jackson or Graham tossed up a shot that clanked hollowly off the iron, the Jayhawks' sense of desperation slowly growing.
Jackson didn't score until midway through the second half, and said later he'd "never been in such a tough position." Graham was 0 for 7 from the field, missing all six of his 3s.
The Jayhawks eventually began to whittle into their deficit, doing most of the work at the free-throw line. But the Ducks kept answering just enough to keep the crowd from giving Kansas anything extra.
When Svi Mykhailiuk scored to make it 64-55, Ennis answered with a driving basket. When Mykhailiuk buried a 3 from the corner to make it 66-60 with 2:49 left, Dorsey answered at the other end with another 3-pointer as the shot-clock expired to give Oregon some breathing room.
A few minutes later, the Ducks were cutting down the nets to end a satisfying trip to Kansas City.
"The seven years we've been at Oregon, we've had great guys to work with," Altman said, "but I also feel good for all the other players, the ex-players, who have built Oregon basketball. Like we said, 1939 is a long drought, but we owe all the ex-players."