Anton Khudobin preferred the postgame spotlight to be on the Stars’ effort in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, not him. But when you watched how the Dallas goaltender kept denying the Lightning’s never-ending scoring chances, it’d be hard to talk about much else.
The Stars are three wins away from their first Cup title since 2000 in large part because of the 34-year-old Russian’s play. As Ben Bishop deals with an injury, Khudobin has been the No. 1 star more often than not most nights. He stopped 35 of 36 Tampa shots during their 4-1 win Saturday night to continue his Conn Smythe Trophy worthy play since the Western Conference Final.
Via Natural Stat Trick, at even strength in his last six starts he has a .956 save percentage and stopped 130 of 136 shots faced.
Keeping their goaltender busy has ended with good results for the Stars. Game 1 was the fourth straight game Khudobin made at least 30 saves and the team has won nine in a row when he’s turned aside that many shots.
As the Lightning pressed and kept coming in waves, Khudobin was a calming presence amid all the chaos in the Stars’ zone. He even got to flash a little glove.
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“His play’s been speaking for itself,” said Jamie Oleksiak, who scored Dallas’ second goal. “It looks like whenever he’s out there, he’s just having fun. I think we’re feeding off that energy. He’s been great. I can’t say enough about him.”
The Stars needed their goaltender big time in the second and third periods. Tampa outshot Dallas 23-7 at 5-on-5 over the final 40 minutes, including 14-1 in the third. Each time the Lightning tried to make a breakthrough, Khudobin was there to deny a chance.
“When he’s on, which he was today, he’s reading the play. He’s getting there, anticipating the shot,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness. “He’s not late, he’s not chasing the game around, he’s 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 importantly, he’s a competitive guy, and he’ll do whatever he can to stop the puck. That’s why he’s so effective.”
Dallas did their part to try and help Tampa get back into the game with three third-period power plays. But the Lightning could only muster four shots with the man advantage, all of which were stopped by Khudobin.
The Stars have received contributions from their depth players all playoffs. That was on display in Game 1 with Joel Hanley scoring his first NHL goal, and Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta adding to their postseason totals. They’re thriving with the “next man up” mentality, and Khudobin stepping in to the No. 1 spotlight in net is further evidence of that.
“He’s been a rock for us all playoffs, it was no different tonight,” said Stars forward Blake Comeau. “We got into penalty trouble there in the third and he was there to bail us out, and that’s been the storyline this playoffs. Every time we’ve needed a big save, he’s been there for us.
“We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s playing great for us right now, and we’re going to need him to continue that moving forward.”
Game 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final is Monday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream)