Welcome to the series of the backup goaltender.
And Dallas' netminder absolutely made sure to carry the Stars when they needed him to during a 5-2 win over Colorado in Game 2, helping the Stars to a 2-0 series lead over the Avalanche in the second round.
For the first 20 minutes of Monday night's game in Edmonton, Alberta, Anton Khudobin was the only reason the Stars remained within striking distance of the Avalanche. As Nathan MacKinnon buzzed around the ice, and the Avalanche dominated offensive zone time, Khudobin made 19 first-period saves, escorting the Stars to the dressing room down one goal instead of a handful.
That set the stage for the rest of the Stars to locate their game in an eventful second period.
The Stars erased a 2-0 deficit by scoring four straight goals across 9:20, stealing Colorado's mojo and digging the Avalanche a substantial hole in the second round. Joe Pavelski cashed in on a 5 on 3 power play, and Radek Faksa followed 43 seconds later with another power play goal.
After the Stars killed 57 seconds of an Avalanche 5 on 3 chance, Dallas took control of the game.
Alexander Radulov scored a goal that bounced off his collarbone.
Esa Lindell scored on a one-man mission up the ice, hacking his own rebound past Pavel Francouz. The goal was reviewed and the call on the ice stood after officials couldn't conclude that the puck fully crossed the goal line.
It was the latest comeback effort for the Stars — who beat the Calgary Flames in Game 4 after scoring the game-tying goal with 11.9 seconds remaining, and the Flames in Game 6 after trailing 3-0 in the first period — and a gut punch for Colorado.
The Avalanche have received brilliant play from their top line, and MacKinnon in particular. Colorado scored five goals in the first two games of the series, and MacKinnon had a point on each one of them. He outshot the entire Stars team in the first period by himself. It still wasn't enough for the Avs, who now must win four of the next five games in the series to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
For the Stars, it began with the man between the pipes, as both teams turned to their backup goalies due to injuries to their starters.
Khudobin — who made 39 saves in Game 2 — has been filling in for Ben Bishop for almost two weeks for the Stars. Francouz, meanwhile, took the reins for Colorado after Philipp Grubauer left Game 1 with an apparent left leg injury. Francouz allowed four goals on 26 shots Monday night.
It just so happens that these two teams may be two of the best-equipped in the league to handle absences from their starters, despite Francouz's shaky performance in Game 2.
Khudobin and Francouz were arguably the two best backup goalies in the league during the regular season. Khudobin led the NHL with a .930 save percentage and Francouz finished fifth overall and third among backups at .923. Among No. 2 goalies, Khudobin finished second with a 2.22 goals against average and Francouz was fifth at 2.41.
According to Hockey Reference, no two backups prevented more goals (given their save percentage and the league average against the same number of shots) than Khudobin and Francouz.
"Every goalie in this league is an outstanding goaltender, regardless if you label them their No. 1 or their No. 2," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "Colorado has full confidence in Francouz. We know he can go in and do a great job for them. Every goalie has their tendencies, their puck-handling abilities, their angles, how aggressive they are. Jeff Reese will give us the scouting the report on him and we'll go from there."
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Monday afternoon that Grubauer would be out indefinitely for Colorado, meaning the Avs will have to ride Francouz. That shouldn't be much of a change for Colorado since Francouz started 30 of the team's 70 games during the regular season, including 12 of the team's final 13 during the regular season.
Francouz played well enough to make the goaltending battle an area of intrigue entering training camp, and earned a start in the round robin against the Stars, shutting out Dallas, 4-0.
"Frankie's played real well for us this year," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said after Game 1. "He's kind of split the season with some of the injuries that we've had and his play has dictated that he should stay in the net at times. We're a confident team in front of him too."
For the Stars, Khudobin has been crucial to the team's success, both in 2018-19 when he took over for long stretches when Bishop was injured, and this season forming the best goaltending duo in the West.
Khudobin's start in Game 2 was his sixth in a row for the Stars, with no end in sight given Bishop's unknown injury status. In the playoffs, Khudobin has been good, but not otherworldly. He has steadied the Stars when they've needed stability (during flurries against the Flames and in the first period of Game 1 against Colorado), but has allowed a few soft goals during his postseason play.
Regardless, Khudobin has kept the Stars in games and given them chances to win.
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