Anton Khudobin stopped 18-of-19 shots in a win over the Isles. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)
Let’s all take a deep breath and not lose our heads over one solid start from Bruins backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, OK?
(Proceeds to hyperventilate and immediately lose head.)
The Bruins were in a near must-win situation — much like they have been all week, and with zero wins before Saturday — but with Tuukka Rask back in Boston with a lower-body injury that flared up and kept him out of Friday’s practice, the Bruins were forced to turn to the hot-and-cold Khudobin on in Brooklyn. Khudobin has been in some pressure spots of late, sure, but nothing quite like this.
And in need of a win, Khudobin delivered just that, with stops on 18 of 19 shots thrown his way, including a perfect eight for eight mark on Islander power-play shots fired on net. It was hardly Khudobin’s hardest night in the crease from a shot volume standpoint, of course, but for the number of times it crumbled to pure chaos in front of Khudobin, letting in just one goal spoke to what has to be considered Khudobin’s best game of the year.
It’s also prompted some talk of riding the ‘hot hand’ and sitting Rask for Khudobin.
It’s actually not the worst idea, but not for the reasons you’d think.
I already know what you’re saying: Khudobin has won more big games than Rask this season, by a count of one to zero.
You would have to know that would be a lazy narrative to push though, right? Rask has not been at his best this week. I can’t deny that. Not even the biggest Rask apologist can deny that. But I’m also not blind to the fact that his numbers and the eye-test on Rask got significantly worse as the week went on (he played three games in four nights in late March, which is an almost impossibly dumb idea). But to pick and choose the ‘big games’ that Rask has either won or lost is subjective and can conveniently fit any narrative that you so choose to craft, and the counter would be that every game of the Bruce Cassidy Era has been a big game for the club given the hole they had dug themselves before Claude Julien was relieved of his duties.
I’m also not blind to the fact that the lower-body injury he’s dealt with all year crept back into the mix at the worst time possible.
And I know what you’re saying again: This is the second year in a row that Rask has tapped out of a must-win situation with an injury. First it was a sickness in 2016 and now a vague lower-body injury you didn’t hear about for the last two months that has seemingly out of nowhere. (Sidenote: You did hear about it early in the year, and Rask did say he ‘popped’ his groin just a few months back.) If you care to go back even farther, Rask could not skate for Finland in their semifinal game against Sweden in 2014, so there’s an unfortunate history against No. 40. But unlike Saturday Skate co-host Ken Laird, I don’t need to, nor do I want to see Rask poop and puke all over the ice to know that he cares about his team’s situation. The same logic applies to watching Rask try to battle through a pulled groin or twisted knee. It would do very little to actually help the Bruins, and to hell with your idea of toughness in that situation. It doesn’t apply to a position as important as an NHL goaltender.
For a third time, I know what you’re saying: Rask is being a baby because of Cassidy ‘calling’ him out after Thursday. Nope. Hurt feelings or not, Rask is an adult and a professional hockey player, and is not petty enough to actually put his teammates in such a position. This isn’t NHL17 and the player did not lose morale because of a recent conversation with the coach. Be real.
So, if he’s fatigued, if he’s injured, if he needs a break, ride Khudobin.
This is why you signed Khudobin in the first place.
After late-season collapses exposed gigantic holes in the B’s crease — be it because of Rask’s insane workload by the year’s end or failure to have a trustworthy backup in Niklas Svedberg or Jonas Gustavsson — the decision to bring Khudobin back was almost entirely based on the fact that he was somebody the then-coach had trust in going back to their time together from 2011 to 2013.
Khudobin has actually responded to the Cassidy switch quite well, too, with five wins and a .920 save percentage in five starts.
There’s little to gain in dressing Rask if he’s not going to be Rask. With seven games left in the season, the stakes are too high, even with the club back in a playoff position after Saturday’s Khudobin-led win, for the Bruins to do that, too. The Bruins are 73 games into the season, and it’s far too late (nor would it make sense) to abandon their plans of making the postseason. And if that does indeed happen, the goal then becomes making noise in the playoffs. Those latter plans simply cannot become a reality without a capable Rask in the crease and with at least some measure of energy left in his body.
Then, and evidently not now, for the B’s.