BOSTON (CBS) – The edict from Bruins coach Claude Julien in a pregame press briefing was expressed clearly and confidently.
When asked about Anton Khudobin’s ability to play at the top of his game despite scarce playing time, the veteran bench boss explained.
“If he wants to play here, he’s got to adapt,” Julien said. “We’re not going to adapt to him, he adapts to us and it’s as simple as that.”
Well, Khudobin needed about 8:38 of ice time Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning before he adapted enough to help earn the Bruins two points. After surrendering two goals in that amount of time to put the Bruins in a hole, Khudobin recovered for a 20-save performance and a 3-2 win at TD Garden.
Making his fourth start of the year, Khudobin was also making his return to action after two weeks off between games.
“Before the game, I tried to focus on the game,” said Khudobin, who counted among his saves a stop on an Alex Killorn breakaway during the power play that featured Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal. “I tried to think, ‘What are they going to do?’ I felt like I didn’t play in two weeks, but at the same time, you pretty much just have to go out there and play no matter what.”
Khudobin’s studying couldn’t have prepared him for the goal Steven Stamkos scored with his feet below the goal line 5:32 into the game. Stamkos’ shot was seemingly beamed from his stick to the back of the net. Killorn then beat Khudobin with a backhand shot at 8:38.
Khudobin is one of the few newer faces on the Bruins, who have been known over the last several years for their ability to overcome early deficits. This season they’ve now rebounded from three multi-goal holes to tie the score. With Khudobin stellar in net, they finally won a game in which they came back from more than one goal behind.
One key was that Khudobin’s attitude about a deficit pretty much matches that of the rest of the Bruins.
“Just try to forget about it. Just continue to play,” said Khudobin, who now is 3-1-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .906 save percentage on the season. “[The] game is never finished in 10 minutes. It’s finished always in 60-plus minutes. You just have to continue to do your job. “
Khudobin’s job is much different now than what he’s used to. Like almost every other backup goaltender in the NHL, he’s had to accept a lesser role after serving as the go-to guy at most every other stop he’s made in his career. But like Julien said, the 26-year-old netminder has to make some concessions if he wants to be part of the Bruins’ potential return to championship glory. So far, Khudobin’s attitude is right and his play has been just as valuable for Boston.
“I wasn’t in this position for a long time, but it’s just my role right now,” he said. “Just getting ready at practice, and be ready whenever coach will give me playing time.”