ST. PAUL, Minn. – Nearly three hours after his first NHL start, Anton Khudobin sat at his locker surrounded by media recounting his 38-save performance for the Minnesota Wild. All told, the 23-year-old stopped 47 of the first 48 shots he faced since making his debut two nights earlier.
Not bad for a guy who was 1-10 in his previous 11 decisions in the minors.
“I can’t tell you the secret,” Khudobin said.
Khudobin’s 38 saves matched the most by a Wild goalie this season, and Cal Clutterbuck and Owen Nolan scored in Minnesota’s 2-1 victory over Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Minnesota, which entered the night six points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, has won two straight and is 8-0-1 in its last nine home games.
“We need a few more,” Nolan said. “We’re not going to sit back, we’ve got to keep climbing the standings.”
If Khudobin continues playing like this, Minnesota will have plenty of chances to do just that.
Khudobin, a seventh-round pick in the 2004 draft, made his NHL debut Thursday against Edmonton after regular backup Josh Harding left with a hip injury. On Saturday night, with Harding still nursing the injury and regular starter Niklas Backstrom out with an illness, the 23-year-old Khudobin picked up his second win against a Flyers team also fighting for its place in the playoff standings heading into the Olympic break.
Philadelphia has one goal in its last two games.
“It’s frustrating, we’re getting the opportunities, we just have that lack of scoring touch,” Mike Richards said. “We’re hitting posts, and then posts that come out.”
They hit a couple more posts against Khudobin, but couldn’t rattle the young goaltender.
“You know, probably the coach said, ‘This is young goalie, rookie, you know, just warm him up and shoot from everywhere,”‘ Khudobin said. “‘Maybe he will let them score.”‘
Khudobin’s only blemish came in the first period when Dan Carcillo scored off a rebound off Braydon Coburn’s shot from the left circle to make it 1-all. He turned away an early flurry of shots and a power play as Philadelphia dominated puck possession, outshooting Minnesota 14-3 midway through the first period.
“He couldn’t sit at the edge of the pool and dip his toe in,” Wild coach Todd Richards said. “He had to pretty much jump right in tonight.”
Michael Leighton had 28 saves starting in place of Ray Emery, who was scratched with a left hip injury.
The Wild opened the scoring at 15:37 of the first after Leighton tried to clear the puck away from the net, but instead poked it directly to Clutterbuck in the slot.
Carcillo answered 16 seconds later, though.
But Minnesota took advantage of another mistake by Leighton to regain the lead at 11:48 of the second period. Leighton failed to cover up the puck after stopping Eric Belanger’s shot from the left circle. He appeared to try to leave the rebound for his defenceman when Nolan got his stick on the puck and made it 2-1.
“I let in two soft goals, and, obviously, that hurt us pretty bad. I’ll take the blame for both those goals,” Leighton said.
NOTES: Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said Emery would be re-evaluated Monday. … Minnesota is 3-6-1 overall against the Flyers. It was the Wild’s first win against Philadelphia in five meetings, dating back to a 2-0 home victory Feb. 12, 2003. … The Wild are 14-0-1 this season when leading after two periods. Philadelphia is 1-16 when trailing after two. … Belanger’s assist gave him 34 points this season, three off his career high.