There’s really no fitting Anton Khudobin neatly into the NHL goalie’s stylebook.
The former Bruins goaltender goes about his puck-stopping with an entertaining mishmash of state-of-the-art butterfly components in his tool kit, along with the same kind of scrambling yard-sale approach that Tim Thomas, another ex-Bruins netminder, employed en route to winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011.
“Listen, he’s just a great competitor,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness, after watching a near-possessed “Doby” turn back 22 Lightning shots in the third period Saturday in Game 1 of the Cup Final. “Don’t get wrapped up in styles — get wrapped up [in] the job description: stop the puck. He does everything he can to stop the shot.”
Khudobin, 34, added another chapter to his fairy-tale postseason run in Game 1, turning aside 34 shots for a 4-1 win and improving his own playoff mark to 13-6. He put on a dizzying display in the final 20 minutes when the Bolts, shaking off the lethargy inherent in clinching a Final berth only two nights earlier, awakened with a ferocious offensive roar.
The Kazakhstan-born stopper, drafted No. 206 by Minnesota in 2004, needed 16 years to be given the chance to be the guy who backs a playoff run. By the game’s current No. 1 goalie standards, he is short (5 feet 11 inches), stout (pushing 200 pounds), and not likely to be featured in a manual for young wannabes.
But he has the big job now, and each night he looks destined to lead the Stars to their second Cup in franchise history.
“When he’s on, he’s reading the play,” added Bowness. "He’s getting there, anticipating the shot. He’s not late. He’s not chasing the game around. He is focused on where it’s coming from and he’s meeting the puck.
“His positional play has been great. His reads have been great. But more important than anything, he’s a competitive guy and he’ll do anything he can to stop the puck.”
In the opposite net, elite Tampa Bay tender Andrei Vasilevskiy, all style and pedigree, was a blend of both tired and average. He turned back 16 of 19 shots (the 4-1 closing goal was into an empty net), sometimes looking as tired as one might expect after manning the cage only some 48 hours after backing the series win over the Islanders.
The Stars, who clinched their series over Las Vegas in five games, had been able to rest since Monday night. They had added jump in their legs in the first two periods, and they had the fresher, more alert tender in Doby.
“Good break; we had a lot of games before,” said Khudobin, whose entire playoff experience prior to this season consisted of two relief appearances totaling 38 minutes. "It’s been a little bit different scenario. Of course, we were a little bit relaxed, and we get some practice time, and that’s important.
“It was nice ... but it was a little bit boring for me.”
Offense from the defense
Two former Hockey East blue liners, Joel Hanley (UMass) and Jamie Oleksiak (Northeastern), scored two of the Dallas goals. The Stars now have 15 goals from their backliners in the postseason, after collecting 26 back there across 69 games of the regular season.
“Now in the league, a lot of goals are coming from the point,” offered Hanley. “I think that’s just one of the things we want to do to create offense, getting the D involved.”
The charge back there normally is led by a pair of smooth blue liners, Miro Heiskanen, in only his second NHL season, and veteran John Klingberg. They have combined for eight goals. The 6-7, 255-pound Oleksiak (a.k.a. “Big Rig”) has chipped in with five goals, a pair more than he scored in the regular season.
“I think that’s just part of the team,” said Hanley, again focusing on the offensive contribution of the back end. “Whenever there is an opportunity to jump up and get shots, we want to try to do that.
"I think you see it around the league, defensemen jumping up and trying to get shots. Just something we’ve done a good job of so far.”
According to Bowness, the Stars spent the first three days of July’s return-to-play camp emphasizing the need to get the back line more engaged in scoring.
“In this league today, your [defensemen] have to be a big part of your offense,” said Bowness. “You need the fourth man on the rush. Everyone packs five men down around the net, blocking shots, so you’ve got to get your D involved in the offensive zone.”
Hanley, never drafted, played four seasons at UMass, then a year in the minors before the Canadiens offered him a two-way contract. Oleksiak, a fellow Ontarian, played only the 2010-11 season for Greg Cronin’s Huntington Hounds, and then a junior season in the OHL prior to turning pro as a 19-year-old. The Stars chose him with their top pick (No. 11) in the 2011 draft.
During his postgame Zoom presser, Oleksiak confirmed that some of his toothless smile was expanded in Game 1 when he lost another chicklet in the second period while executing a hit in the corner.
“Ate a little bit of elbow there,” he said. “Part of the game, right?”
With the lethargy gone from their legs after 40 minutes, the Bolts proved with their 22 shots in the third period that they had finally caught up to the Dallas speed. It’s unfair to expect that they can pepper Khudobin with 20 shots per period, but also unfair to expect that Khudobin, or any other tender, can keep the door closed if they come close to sustaining that pace … Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the opener. The slow offensive start likely will encourage him to go with the more conventional 12-6 template in Game 2 … The Stars kept star striker Nikita Kucherov off the scoresheet in Game 1, but he was firing, landing five of his 13 shot attempts (game high for either side). Brayden Point, who helped wreck the Bruins in Round 2, also was kept off the scoresheet and finished an ugly minus-3 (also high for either side) … Total hits for the night: 106, with a slight edge (56) to the Lightning … While the Bolts fired 22 times in the third, the Stars managed but two on the Tampa Bay net, one of them by Jason Dickinson into an empty net.
Doing it with style
Khudobin did show some style with 12:08 gone in the third when he flashed the leather to glove a sizzling Zach Bogosian slapper that could have brought the Bolts within a goal. “Style points there,” noted NBC commentator Brian Boucher, the former goalie … Tampa Bay forward Barclay Goodrow, the former Shark, finished with a game-high 12 hits. Blake Comeau and Oleksiak each logged six smacks for the Stars … The Stanley Cup was on the premises for everyone to see. The big mug usually isn’t spotted inside the rink until there is a series-clinching opportunity. According to a tweet by a Russian reporter, Khudobin, once eyeing it, told his teammates, “Maybe we just steal it and run!”