Dallas Stars: Anton Khudobin Leads Stars To Milestone Win vs. Predators

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 27: The artwork on the mask of Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin (35) is shown prior to the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, held on December 27, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 27: The artwork on the mask of Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin (35) is shown prior to the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, held on December 27, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Dallas Stars were pitted in a big Central division showdown against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night. Using an elite performance from their goaltender and some timely depth scoring, the Stars picked up a huge two points and set themselves up for a potentially quick rebound.

There wasn’t much to be said about the Dallas Stars between their morning skate on Thursday and their game later that night in Nashville.

Following the three-day NHL Holiday Break, the Stars returned to the ice and prepared for the Predators. They were 2-6-0 in their previous eight contests, had fallen out of the playoff picture, and had entered the break on a stale 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

The bad turned to worse when the team showed very little effort or interest in Thursday morning’s skate. Head coach Jim Montgomery was forced to start and redo multiple drills and resorted to calling players out for not doing things the correct way. In the post-skate media scrum, Montgomery reiterated his displeasure with the team’s “embarrassing” effort and pointed out that he was concerned about their chances in the game against the Predators.

Those concerns seemed to all but flutter away by the end of the second period. The Dallas Stars held a 2-0 lead over the defending Central division champions thanks to goals from Tyler Pitlick and Mattias Janmark and looked to be in control of the game. But, it wasn’t because of the goals they had scored; instead, it was the goals that Anton Khudobin had not given up.

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Khudobin put on the best performance of his career, stopping all 49 shots faced. He was all over the crease, stopping chances from out wide and in tight, limiting rebound opportunities, and using his reflexes to keep the Stars on top. When the Stars weathered the storm in the first period and took the lead, Khudobin was there. When Dallas was outshot 19-6 in the second period, the goaltender was on it. And when the Predators pulled Pekka Rinne for the extra attacker with around three minutes left to bring their shot total to 18 in the final frame, Dobby would not be broken.

The win set all sorts of new records and milestones for both Khudobin and the Dallas Stars franchise. For Khudobin, it marked his first shutout as a Star and just the seventh of his NHL career. Not only did 49 saves mark the highest shutout of his career, but it was also the highest number of shots he has ever faced in an NHL game.

The 49-save beauty also marks the highest save total in a shutout in franchise history (both Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars). The previous record was set by North Stars goalie Cesare Maniago on March 1, 1970. That’s a 48-year record busted.

In addition, it was also the most saves recorded in a shutout win over Nashville, topping Chris Mason‘s 47 with the Blues back in 2008. His shutout is now the 11th-highest in a regular season game in NHL history, giving him plenty of records to boast going forward. And he earned every single one of them.

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But this is a big win for the Dallas Stars for a few reasons. Sure, every win may seem like a big one for the Stars at this point in the season; but this one in and of itself carried a big shift with it.

For one, the Stars won a second consecutive Central division contest for the first time this year. They are now 3-4-1 against the Central and look better in divisional contests. It’s a growing process that they will be able to add onto as the New Year gets underway.

Central division games are regarded as “four-point contests” for a reason, and that showed on Thursday night. If Dallas had lost, they would have been nine points behind second place (currently held by Nashville). But, with the win in regulation, the Stars now sit just five points back of second place in the division.

Thursday night was also a good night to the Dallas Stars when it came to gaining ground on the teams currently around them. The Colorado Avalanche (third in the Central), Anaheim Ducks (first wild card), Edmonton Oilers (wild card race), and Minnesota Wild (wild card race), were all in action on Thursday night. Each of these teams lost in regulation, giving the Stars a sizable amount of ground gained.

As a result, Dallas sits three points out of third in the division, two points out of the first wild card spot with a game in hand, as well as two points above Edmonton and four points above Minnesota in the wild card race. The Vancouver Canucks are only one point back of Dallas in the race after defeating Edmonton last night, but have two games out of hand against the Stars.

1.  Anaheim Ducks 39 GP 43 PTS

2. Dallas Stars 38 GP 41 PTS

3. Vancouver Canucks 40 GP 40 PTS

4. Edmonton Oilers 37 GP 39 PTS

5. Minnesota Wild 36 GP 37 PTS

Although we are only approaching he midway point in the regular season, each game is already taking on a critical status. With that being said, a win for the Dallas Stars on Thursday was big.

The Stars proved that they can win regardless of the arena or opponent. They can win even when their coach expresses worry about their focus and ability. They can win without their top line doing any damage. They can win the special teams battle and get a massive performance out of their goaltender. Simply put: they can win when it matters most and prove that they are still a playoff contender.

If Dallas had lost last night, they would still be sitting outside of the playoff race on Friday morning. But with the win, they are back in a wild card seat. And with the inconsistent Detroit Red Wings as well as a Montreal Canadiens team that they have already defeated once on tap to close out 2018, the potential is present for them to continue ascending.

Anton Khudobin stood on his head while Tyler Pitlick and Mattias Janmark cashed in when the opportunities presented themselves. As a result, the Stars held the line, put together a full team effort, and picked up a massive two points.

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These are the kinds of wins that can not only define a team, but motivate them going forward. We’ll see what it does for a Dallas Stars team that was in serious need of a character-based performance.