Anton Khudobin isn’t the sexiest name out there when you consider the stars in this year’s Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning. But he might be the most lovable.
Since being pressed into service during the Stars’ first-round series against the Calgary Flames, it has been a whirlwind for the 34-year old netminder, who once lived in Saskatoon, Sask., with a billet family and has bounced around four pro leagues (KHL, ECHL, AHL and now the NHL) before reaching this moment. He is arguably the best feel-good story of the postseason in a year when good news is seriously welcomed any time we can get it.
Khudobin has been a driving force in the Stars’ quest to capture Lord Stanley’s mug for the first time since 1999. “Dobby” has been the go-to guy in the playoffs despite taking a back seat in the regular season to Ben Bishop, who battled a mysterious ailment through camp and only played one of the three round-robin games, suited up once against Calgary, allowing four goals, and once against Colorado, giving up four goals in 13 minutes before hitting the showers. Khudobin has made the most of the opportunity, posting a 12-6 record alongside a .920 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average.
The 34-year-old saved his best work for when it mattered most, going 4-1 with a .950 SV% and 1.69 GAA against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final, capping it off with another viral moment after finishing them off.
That tweet has been seen nearly 60,000 times, reaffirming that, yes, Khudobin is thriving in 2020 and we are all here to see it.
Praise for the Kazakh has gone beyond what his past and present teammates have said about him. His personality and “memeability” has already caused some on Twitter to change their display names, ranging from “Anton Khudobin stan account” to “I would kill a dude for Anton Khudobin.”
Extreme, but the passion is there for the potential Conn Smythe winner.
Of course, Khudobin wouldn’t be enjoying this level of success and newfound fame without the support of his teammates, one of whom also has a good case for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Miro Heiskanen is fourth in playoff scoring — and tops among all D-men — while matching up against the best of the best for 25 minutes a night. Jamie Benn has shown off his leadership qualities throughout the postseason while leading all Stars forwards in points with 18. Denis Gurianov and John Klingberg have also kept the Stars shining all summer.
But the fate of the Stars against the high-powered Lightning is going to rest heavily on the thick shoulders of their spiritual leader, who with a little more magic could become the first goalie since Cam Ward (whom Khudobin once backed up) in 2006 to win the Conn Smythe Trophy while finishing with a GAA above two. The highest GAA recorded by a Conn Smythe Trophy winner was 3.00, recorded by Ken Dryden with the Canadiens in 1971.
No matter what happens in the Stanley Cup Final, “Dobby” has left his mark on the game — or at the very least, on the Internet.
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