BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy normally announces his starting goaltender a day or more in advance, but he didn’t do that ahead of Saturday’s regular season finale against the arch-rival Montreal Canadiens. It was slightly eyebrow-raising coming off a Thursday night performance where Tuukka Rask had a dreadful first period despite eventually earning the win, and amidst a six game stretch where Rask has amassed a yuk-worthy .888 save percentage.
As it turns out Rask is nursing a “very, very minor injury” according to Cassidy, and that meant backup Anton Khudobin would get the assignment on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens. As he’s done pretty much all season, Khudobin responded with a fantastic performance in going save-for-save with a brilliant Antti Niemi while waiting for the Bruins offense to catch up to him in a comeback 2-1 overtime win vs. the Canadiens at TD Garden.
“You’ve got to give their goalie credit,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I thought, for a 1-1 game, both goaltenders were – I don’t know if they were one and two star -- but damn close if they weren’t. I thought it was a really well played game as far as the goaltending.”
The Bruins outshot the Habs by a 50-28 margin and dominated long stretches of the game, but the Canadiens certainly got some high quality chances against a B’s team that was skating five D-men after the first period injury to Charlie McAvoy. After getting beaten by a Brendan Gallagher snipe off a Kevan Miller turnover halfway through the first period Khudobin was perfect after that while keeping the Bruins in a game where they trailed by one goal for almost 40 minutes.
One more mistake could have sunk the Bruins, and Khudobin never made it while shutting down odd-man rushes and making flashy glove saves. He did just that in the second period shutting down Logan Shaw on a 2-on-1 while aggressively attacking the shooter, and then later snatching a sizzling Alex Galchenyuk one-timer with a big glove hand.
In all Khudobin stopped 27 shots and improved to 14-4-4 in what’s been his best NHL season that continues to onward and upward as Rask’s oft-used backup.
“They are a pretty fast team but they played back to back so maybe, I don’t want to say that we were frustrated in the offensive zone and that’s why it happened, but [the odd man rushes] happened,” said Khudobin. “Sometimes you have games like this that you’re probably going to see more odd man rushes than just straight shots. It just happens like that.”
“It’s a 1-1 game going to overtime and the other goalie was playing really well and I was just hoping that we were going to score that’s all. It’s never too easy when you’re just standing there and you have a couple of great scoring chances and one of them can go in and you’re like one chance and there goes the game. I’m glad we won the game and it went our way.”
With a .921 save percentage that’s better than Rask’s this season and a comparable 2.34 goals against average this season, a lot of things have deservedly gone Khudobin’s way during a brilliant season with the Black and Gold. There should be no hesitation with calling Khudobin’s number on days like Saturday where the Bruins are trying to keep their No. 1 goalie fresh and rested during the stretch run.