By Angela Busch
Naples Daily News
ESTERO, Fla. – The Florida Everblades’ run through the Kelly Cup playoffs with one goalie and an emergency backup will continue at least until May 7.
That’s certain after Monday night, when the Houston Aeros beat the Peoria Rivermen 5-2 in Game 7 of the first round of the American Hockey League playoffs. Anton Khudobin was in net for each of Houston’s four playoff wins, and he’s expected to remain the starter in the second round.
Khudobin, 22, is also the second goalie on the Blades’ roster. He started the season with the Blades and went 18-10-1 with a 2.71 goals-against average before being called up to the Aeros on Feb. 28. Khudobin was originally an emergency replacement for injured Houston backup and former ECHL goaltender Barry Brust but got a chance to start after Houston starter and former ECHL netminder Nolan Schaefer was also injured. Neither Brust nor Schaefer has returned for the playoffs.
The earliest Houston’s second-round series could end is May 7. The Blades play this Friday, Saturday and Sunday — May 1, 2 and 3 — in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the South Division Finals against the second-seeded South Carolina Stingrays.
The Stingrays won 2-1 in overtime on Friday at Germain Arena in Game 1, and the Blades evened the series with a 4-3 win on Saturday at Germain Arena.
The Blades were able to put any two goalies on their playoff roster who had played at least five regular-season games for them or who were signed to a two-way AHL contract and had played five regular-season games.
The first goalie is David Leggio, who has started each of the Blades’ seven playoff games, going 5-0-2 with a goals-against average of 2.11 and save percentage of 0.905. The second was Khudobin.
According to the rules above, Florida could have added AHL all-star Mike Brodeur, who signed a two-way contract with the Blades’ AHL affiliate, to the roster instead of Khudobin. Blades assistant coach John Marks, who joined the team late in the season, was Brodeur’s coach for the ECHL’s Augusta Lynx earlier this season, before the Lynx folded in November.
“(Brodeur) didn’t really feel comfortable coming in for the playoffs (for the Blades) without signing (an NHL contract) first,” Marks said. “He just wanted to play it safe, I guess.”
According to Marks, Brodeur was worried that poor play for the Blades could hurt his chances of signing an NHL contract with the Florida Panthers, one of the Blades’ NHL affiliates, or his chances of signing with a different NHL team.
Brodeur, 26, went 18-13-4 with a save percentage of 0.921 for the AHL’s Rochester Americans this season, playing behind a very young, inexperienced defense.
Another option in net for the Blades instead of Khudobin was 22-year-old Kyle Gajewski. The 5-foot-10, 142-pound goalie went 4-0-0 in five games for the Blades, with a goals-against average of 2.67. But Gajewski was released at the end of the regular season in favor of Khudobin, who could miss the Blades’ entire playoffs if Houston advances.
“(Khudobin) will probably be there a while,” Marks said. “He just beat (former ECHL and St. Louis Blues goalie) Manny Legace in seven games. That’s pretty impressive.”
Meanwhile, the Blades will soldier on with Leggio and 19-year-old emergency backup Adrien Lemay, who will only play if Leggio is injured. Lemay is in his third season of junior hockey and has never played a professional game. He was 6-11-2 with a goals-against average of 4.35 for the Lewiston MAINEiacs this regular season in the Quebec Major-Junior Hockey League.
Leggio, an ECHL rookie himself, will have a big test of endurance this weekend, when the Blades play three road games in three days.