Harris: Anton Khudobin refocuses, gives Bruins big effort
When free agent goaltender Anton Khudobin decided last summer to sign with the Bruins, it’s a safe bet his expectations for the season did not include being at the center of one of the team’s most problematic issues — nor spending quite so much time driving up and down Route 95 between Boston and Providence.
But life as an NHL backup goalie often comes with ample frustration and unexpected twists and turns.
The 30-year-old Russian has been involved in nine transactions in four months, bouncing between the B’s and their AHL farm club — an experience he described after his latest recall the other day as, “kind of crazy.”
But sanity was restored for Khudobin yesterday, as he cleared his mind of his earlier woes, focused entirely on the task at hand and gave the B’s a first-rate afternoon of puck-stopping, with 29 saves in the 4-3 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
It was only the second win of the season by a B’s No. 2 goalie, as Khudobin and rookies Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban had gone a combined 1-10-2 before yesterday. The failure of the backups to perform reliably heaped added workload and pressure on No. 1 Tuukka Rask and seemed to be a flaw that could sink the B’s playoff chances.
So Khudobin’s performance goes near the top of the list of encouraging developments we’ve seen since Tuesday’s coaching change.
“Very strong game,” said interim coach Bruce Cassidy of Khudobin’s day. “(It) certainly gave us a chance to win. We had a number of breakdowns in front of him that led to quality chances that he was there to make the save on.
“So I’m very happy for him. He’s worked hard on his game and we scored a goal late (by David Pastrnak) for him to get the win. I think it’s a bit of a monkey off his back and hopefully he can build on it going forward.”
Khudobin, now 2-5-1, agreed with both those notions.
“I feel the same way,” he said. “And hopefully — let’s be funny and sarcastic — hopefully I’m going to get the third win earlier than the second.”
The key to No. 2 was forgetting about any extraneous concerns like his record or his frequent stints with the Providence Bruins, for whom he was 7-3-1 in 11 games.
“I just focused on my game, to be honest,” Khudobin said. “I was like, ‘Don’t think about anything. I have a game, there is the rush, there are the players, I have to see the shot, I have to stop the shot.’ That’s all.
“I didn’t have any pressure. I just wanted to have fun and play the game and, obviously, get the ‘W.’ But, it’s 60 minutes away, so from the start, I wasn’t thinking about anything else.”
Khudobin, and the Bruins as a group, had to bounce back from an Alex Burrows goal with less than a second left in the second period. It was one of many physical scrambles that unfolded in and around the B’s crease, with Canucks players hacking and whacking until the puck suddenly ended up in the net to knot the score at 2-2.
“To be honest, I don’t know (how that went in),” Khudobin said. “What I’m thinking is — I haven’t seen the video yet; we’re going to watch the video (today) — I think it hit my back leg and just went off my leg and in. I don’t know, I can’t tell, because I didn’t feel anything. I just saw the guys start celebrating and they said, ‘Goal, goal, goal.’ And I looked in the net and it was in.
“I felt like somebody bounced me a little bit and I kind of lost my position (against the post). But, other than that, I just tried to close everything.”
He closed enough yesterday to get an important win. And with the B’s facing five more back-to-backs on their schedule, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to help more.
“We have to get up in the standings,” he said. “That’s really important in back-to-backs. Hopefully I got the monkey off my back. Like I said — keep going, kind of play whatever, back-to-back or whatever. Just keep winning and maybe there wouldn’t be that much talk about the goalies not winning the games.
“I want to win the games. Losing sucks. That’s the way I am, and of course if you’re winning, it helps your team and it helps to feel good.”