Anton Khudobin finally getting well-deserved credit during Stars playoff run

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With Ben Bishop on the shelf, the Dallas Stars could have cratered, but instead Anton Khudobin has been a revelation. And maybe it’s a rise we should have seen coming.

Even if Khudobin takes a step back as the Stars face the Golden Knights in Game 4 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET – NBC – livestream), it’s already been an impressive journey. And there’s plenty of evidence that his strong play is no fluke.

Anton Khudobin has been huge for Dallas Stars — and not just during the playoffs

Following the Stars’ exciting Game 3 overtime win against the Golden Knights, everyone from coach Rick Bowness to captain Jamie Benn praised Khudobin’s play. Benn called Khudobin’s play “unreal.”

“We don’t get into overtime without him,” Bowness said. “He made some huge saves, especially on the penalty kill after we challenged, and so give him a lot of credit tonight. We don’t win it without his play.”

Frankly, the Stars likely wouldn’t have made it to the NHL playoffs these past two seasons without Khudobin, either.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

For those who counted out the Stars when it became clear that Ben Bishop wasn’t healthy, it might be surprising to see Khudobin hold up so well.

But the truth is that Khudobin has been one of the best backup/”platoon” goalies for some time now, joining the likes of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Indeed, with Bishop’s unfortunate tendency to get injured, it’s been appropriate to describe the Stars’ goalie tandem as a “1a/1b” situation for some time now.

In fact, Khudobin’s been outright better at times. That includes the 2019-20 regular season, as Khudobin was tremendous (16-8-4 record, .930 save percentage in 30 games played) while Bishop was quite good (21-16-4, .920 save percentage in 44 GP). While Bishop was better in 2018-19 (.934 save percentage, 46 GP), Khudobin played a huge role in Dallas making the postseason (.923 save percentage, 41 GP).

When you look at career stats, Khudobin’s strong play is even less surprising. Over 218 regular season games, Khudobin sports an impressive .919 career save percentage.

You won’t see many goalies with better career marks than that, but Bishop’s one of them (.921). Of course, it’s also fair to note that Khudobin hasn’t carried a big workload very often during his journeyman NHL career.

So, yes, that’s where this is surprising. Remarkably, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs mark the first time Khudobin started playoff games. Being that he turned 34 in May, it’s fair to call this an unusual path to such success, but it also points to one of Khudobin’s essential qualities as a battler.

Don’t be surprised if the talented, aggressive Golden Knights make it even more of a battle for Khudobin and the Stars in Game 4 and beyond, but so far Khudobin’s been up to the task.

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars (DAL 2-1)

Stars 1, Golden Knights 0 (recap)
Golden Knights 3, Stars 0 (recap)
Stars 3, Golden Knights 2 [OT] (recap)
Game 4: 
Saturday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: 
Monday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 6: 
Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7: 
Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN

*if necessary

MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Final schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.