BOSTON – Everywhere Anton Khudobin has gone, all he’s done is put up numbers. But this time of year, the only one he’s focusing on right now is two.
That’s how many wins separate the former Texas Wildcatters and Florida Everblades goaltender from getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Now the backup for the Boston Bruins, the 27-year-old Kazakhstan native appeared in 14 regular season games this year, and even though he knew he’d be behind starter Tuukka Rask once the postseason got underway, that hasn’t made the run any less exciting for him.
"It’s so exciting," he said. "It’s a good experience. I got to be a part of this a couple years ago, but I was in the stands and not on the bench. It’s a little different. It’s a step closer to my goal."
Khudobin started his North American pro career in the 2007-08 season as a member of the Wildcatters, for whom he posted a sparkling 1.98 goals against average in 27 games. In the 12 contests he got into with the AHL’s Houston Aeros, he was a decimal point away from being as good, putting up a 1.99 GAA. But for some reason, he kept having to come back to the ECHL.
"(The ECHL) was just a step. It was a step to the AHL, pretty much. It’s a long story," Khudobin told ECHL.com at the Stanley Cup Final in Boston.
"But all the time, I go to AHL camp, coach was telling me that I’m not ready yet. But I had a couple shutouts. In my first game against Rockford, I beat them, 6-1, and he still didn’t trust me or believe in me or whatever, I don’t know. It was a good experience those first couple years in what I need to do and how I need to handle everything."
Khudobin returned to the ECHL for the 2008-09 season, this time as a member of the Everblades, and had a .907 save percentage in 33 games before finally graduating to the AHL full time. After spending the majority of the following year with the Aeros, Khudobin finally earned his first opportunity in the NHL, and made his debut in mop-up duty for the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 4, 2010 against the Edmonton Oilers. Two days later, he got his first start and first win, making 38 saves in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
He’d appear in four more games for the Wild the following season, but despite a stellar 1.59 goals against average and .942 save percentage, he was unable to become a regular in their organization and was eventually dealt to Boston later that year.
"I don’t like to give up," Khudobin recalls. "It took that many years to get in the NHL, and that was my goal. Sometimes, you get to the NHL faster and sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes, you try and don’t get there and go to another league or Europe somewhere. I didn’t want to give up, I knew I could play at this level. I just kept working and wanted to show what I could."
Khudobin’s road with Boston seemed like it would be similar at first. He remained in the AHL with Providence for the remainder of the 2010-11 season and all but one game in 2011-12, an outstanding 44-save performance against Ottawa in a 3-1 victory.
Only when fellow ECHL alum Tim Thomas took a year away from hockey did a spot open up for Khudobin, and he pounced on it, playing to a 2.32 GAA behind Rask in 14 appearances.
"Of course, you always have to be patient," he said. "When I signed (my) contract, I knew I was going to get my opportunities. I wasn’t waiting until they were going to do something with Timmy (Thomas) or (Tuukka Rask), so I had to get ready for the season and show what I could."