Anton Khudobin has won consecutive games for the first time all season and for the first time since Jan. 2015. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)
For the first time in over two calendar years, and thanks to a 4-1 final in Los Angeles tonight, Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin has won consecutive games. And for everything thrown his way in the first 40 minutes of tonight’s game, there’s little doubt that he earned it.
In net for a pivotal start that would have allowed the Bruins to leave their daunting California swing with either two, three, or four of a possible six points, the 30-year-old Khudobin was not exactly put in the greatest of situations when it came to this start.
Not only was Khudobin tasked with the aforementioned fate of the road trip’s success being in his glove and blocker, but this game was to be played in a building that’s been short on luck for the Black and Gold, with losses in three straight games at Staples Center. The Bruins were also on the second leg of a back-to-back — they entered with the second-worst record in the NHL in those situations — and the club was in need of a statement game to prove that Bruce Cassidy’s first loss behind the bench was a mere blip on the radar and not a sign of a comedown the team can’t afford.
None of those things mattered, though, as Khudobin was every bit the goaltender the Bruins needed in this game.
The Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Brad Marchand finished off a solo effort upstairs against the Kings’ Peter Budaj for his 26th goal of the season, scored at the 3:16 mark of the first period. It was the quick start (with results) that the Black and Gold needed in a back-to-back, and proved to be an important strike in what was a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes.
But with the Kings on the man advantage, Kevin Gravel scored the first goal of his NHL career with a great net-front deflection out from Adrian Kempe, and the Bruins and Kings skated to a 1-1 draw when what would have been Peter Cehlarik’s first NHL goal was called back after the Kings’ successful challenge that proved David Pastrnak was offsides on the goal.
Pastrnak made up for it in the second period, though, on a stick-exploding one-time goal at the 4:43 mark of the second period. It was a goal that allowed Pastrnak to keep pace with Marchand — both entered and left the game tied for the team lead in goals — and was the necessary punch back in a period heavily dominated by attacking zone chances for the Kings.
Penalized twice in the period — and both times to two of their bigger penalty-killing defenders in Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara — Khudobin stood on his head for 15 saves on 15 shots in the middle period. But none were better than a Jeff Carter partial breakaway opportunity stoned by Khudobin, and a beautiful stop on Drew Doughty with just 1:53 left in the period.
It was probably one of the most controlled periods of Khudobin, who has never been a stranger to adventuring with high-risk saves (I’ve always said that Khudobin plays like the Kazakh version of Tim Thomas), and it kept the Bruins in this game.
And had Carter or Doughty scored there, the complexion of the game would have undoubtedly changed for both the B’s and Khudobin given the fatigue in the B’s skates nearing the end of this trip and having played against a heavy team in the Ducks last night, and for Khudobin, whose season has had way more downs than ups this season (and by a healthy margin, too).
Also: Giving up goals in the final five minutes of periods has been a massive issue for this team, as you know.
It also helped break the Kings, who put just three shots on goal in the third period, which was dominated by the Bruins and finished with empty-net goals from Dominic Moore and David Krejci for the club’s first win in L.A. since Mar. 2012.
But more importantly, the 27-of-28 performance from Khudobin should help settle any urge B’s general manager Don Sweeney has to waste a valuable asset on a backup goalie fix before next week’s trade deadline. So long as performances like this one and the Feb. 9 game against the Canucks, which again gave Khudobin back-to-back wins for the first time since Jan. 2015, continue.
The Bruins will finish this four-game road trip with a Sunday afternoon head-to-head against the Stars.