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.