RALEIGH, N.C. — Goalies don’t ever really face off against each other on the ice, of course. But for the Carolina Hurricanes’ Anton Khudobin, it was still a bit strange to go against his old teammate, Tim Thomas.
"Sometimes, it’s just kind of a little awkward, I would say," Khudobin said. "Obviously, as a Bruin player, we’d been teammates for almost three years and sometimes when you play against each other, it’s just a little awkward, to see him against you. But at the same time, time is moving forward and I move forward, he moves forward."
Both goalies were excellent, but the Hurricanes (20-18-9) prevented a two-game skid from turning into a losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers (18-23-7). Thomas saved 36 of the 39 shots he saw, while Khudobin saved 37 of 39.
When both were with Boston, Khudobin looked up to Thomas, the oldest player to win the Conn Smythe Award as the playoff MVP in 2011, when he also became the first goalie to ever have a shutout in a Game 7 on the road.
Khudobin said he had dinner with Thomas on Friday night. "Last night at dinner, it was just — I didn’t see him for almost a year, and it was just kind of just dinner to talk about everything. We didn’t talk about what he’d been through," Khudobin said, referencing Thomas taking a year off from hockey last season.
And Khudobin can identify with being in and out of the league, naturally. But he doesn’t want to think about that — since his return to the ice on January 2, the Hurricanes are 5-2 (he’s started every game).
It’s not a coincidence, either. He’s saved 217 of the 231 shots he’s seen since his return (.939) and in the five wins, it’s 169 saves in 178 shots (.949). He’s 7-2 on the season, and the other Hurricanes’ goalies combined are 13-16-9.
Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller is more than happy to ride the hot goalie, and right now, that goalie is Khudobin. But before that, it was backup Justin Peters.
"(Khudobin has) been good since training camp. It’s interesting — (Justin) Peters was playing really well there as well, then Anton came back and healthy," Muller said.
"So it’s nice to know that we have two goalies, and we’re going to need both going down the stretch here in this month going up to the Olympic break. But he was sharp again today and he made the game look easy, but he made some really key saves."
Peters was playing well for the Hurricanes, and his save percentage of .929 is not far off of Khudobin’s (.939).
On the second night of a back-to-back tomorrow, it might be Peters in goal, and it might be Khudobin. Muller wouldn’t commit to one. But it was nice to know he had options.
One of the more encouraging stats Khudobin posted was that after allowing three goals on the power play and four on even strength in the last four games, he allowed no power play goals on Friday night.
Maybe he was channeling Thomas in some ways, coming through when his team really needed a win. And naturally, Khudobin was asked afterwards what he’s learned from Thomas from a goaltending standpoint.
It’s hard — if not impossible — to replicate what Thomas does. But that doesn’t mean Khudobin took nothing away from him, either.
"What I picked up from him is he had a pretty hard time to get here, but he didn’t give up. He said maybe to himself or to whoever, ‘I’m going to get this level. I’m going to play at this level. I’m going to earn trust from people around me’," Khudobin said. "So I think that’s the best thing I picked up from him."