The collective groan of Boston Bruins fans could be heard throughout New England on the morning of Aug. 15 when word came out that netminder Tuukka Rask would leave the team and the NHL bubble for personal reasons.
Already in the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs, what’s a team to do when its starting goalie bolts? All hope goes out the window.
Unless you look at the curious case of one of Rask’s former understudies.
Without starting netminder Ben Bishop throughout the playoffs, the Dallas Stars turned to former B’s backup backstop Anton Khudobin. Did anyone in Dallas have high hopes? Perhaps some did, but starting a journeyman without a single career postseason start between the pipes is a daunting task.
Turns out Khudobin is more Tim Thomas than Rask.
His surge to the playoff spotlight is reminiscent of Thomas, who struggled to gain NHL footing before backing the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011. Not flashy or one to make excuses, Khudobin – who had a pair of stints in Boston – has the Stars four wins away from lifting the hardware themselves as they await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders.
It’s a study in resilience, both for the 34-year-old netminder and the Stars. There were no excuses when Dallas found itself sending out a backup goalie for the postseason and the team’s faith in its depth has paid off.
In 18 postseason starts this year, Khudobin is 12-6 with a .920 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average. Prior to this current run, he had never started a postseason game and only played 38 minutes of relief between the pipes in a pair of appearances.
Dallas is the fifth team Khudobin has played for since being drafted in 2004 bv the Minnesota Wild. The Russian netminder reached the NHL in 2009-10 and has stints as a primary netminder in the AHL and overseas, but never for a National Hockey League club.
Thomas, as Boston fans will recall, toiled in the AHL and oversees for years before landing in Boston in 2005-06. Thomas split time in net over the course of a handful of seasons before he took over in 2011and had a memorable run to the Stanley Cup, earning the Conn Smythe Award for his efforts.
Backing up Tuukka Rask apparently ensures future succes. Take note, Jaroslav Halak, for future contract negotiations.
Khudobin – who is in the final year of a two-year deal with Dallas – is a hard guy not to like. Slightly doughy in appearance and rarely without a smile, he’s embraced the spotlight during the playoffs with the Stars, keeping the team in games during rough stretches. To the casual observer, he’s a likeable netminder who doesn’t often seem rattled.
He’s one half of a pair former Bruins skating for the Stars, with Tyler Seguin the more well-known of the two. The second-overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft, Seguin won the Cup as a rookie and played on the 2013 team that fell in the Stanley Cup final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Seguin, of course, was traded to Dallas following the 2013 postseason, with the Bruins getting Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow.
None of those players remain with Boston.