NEW YORK – Anton Khudobin again came to the Bruins’ rescue on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Sure. the Bruins ended kicking sand all over the 98-pound weakling New York Rangers to the tune of an eventual 6-1 score at MSG, but it was the affable backup goalie battling through the first period that helped pave the way for a blowout.
It was clear early in the game that the B’s didn’t have their legs on the second night of a back-to-back on the road and it was up to Khudobin to stop several Grade-A chances among their 11 shots on net in the first period. Sure, there was one Rick Nash snipe that managed to get by him on a turnover from Zdeno Chara, but after that Khudobin was battling, leaping and doing anything under the sun to keep the puck out of the net.
“That was a scramble. The first I tried to keep out and it went through my legs. Then I tried to find the puck, and there was another shot…a deflection. I tried to kick it out, but then I kicked it out and was like ‘uh-oh.’ There was another rebound. I just tried to get there,” said Khudobin, who finished with 21 saves in the win over the Blueshirts. “[Before the game] I’m just getting ready for as many shots as it’s going to be, and just trying to stop them all.
“It’s not easy. It’s back-to-back, it’s an 8 o’clock game and I can’t even remember the last time I played an eight o’clock game. It’s a long day and a nice building and everything, so it was pretty cool. A lot of guys come to me today and say ‘helluva game’ or whatever, but this is my job…to save the pucks. I’m happy to get wins.”
Those aforementioned best stops of the night came in succession when he poke-checked a big chance away from Mika Zibanejad, went into hyperactive mode and then recovered in time to swat away Nash’s bid for his second goal of the night. It was a blur for Khudobin and provided exactly what the Bruins needed as he’s done so many times this season all while sporting an 11-3-4 record.
One of the most clearly defined differences between this season's dominant group and last season’s playoff bubble team has been the excellence of Khudobin. Clearly, the Bruins understood just how important Khudobin was early in the game until the B’s began finding their legs in the final 40 minutes.
“The first period I thought our goaltender was terrific,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We had some breakdowns in the slot that were a little bit uncharacteristic for us, but we got through it. The one on Nash was unbelievable. It happened with Tuukka last week at home where he made a big save backdoor, we end up winning and it sometimes gets lost. But it isn’t on us. He was excellent in the first period and was there for us. He was the difference early, and he’s been good all year.”
There’s no doubting Khudobin’s importance to everything Boston is doing when you look back at the four-game winning streak in mid-November that kicked off their 27-4-4 run, and the sterling .925 save percentage he’s sporting this season. Khudobin’s strong play certainly opens the door for him to seize the backup job in Boston for much longer than just this season when his two-year contract runs out in the summer.