(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

When the Carolina Hurricanes signed Anton Khudobin for a mere $800,000 in the summer of 2013, all they were hoping for was to finally provide starter Cam Ward with a reliable backup. Instead, they got so much more.

Khudobin put together another marvelous performance Tuesday night against the Blue Jackets, stopping 46 of 47 shots in a 3-1 Hurricanes victory, their first in Columbus since 2004. When told it was a career-high in saves, Khudobin disagreed.

“Career-high? No, it was 49, actually. Last year,” he said, then looked directly into the camera in sitcom-like fashion.

Whether or not he exceeded the milestone, the stellar outing was one the ‘Canes desperately needed from their goaltender. After Nathan Gerbe opened the scoring just 3:41 into the contest, forcing then converting on a 2-on-1, it was all Columbus.

The Blue Jackets took control, piling up shot after shot, but didn’t break through until the final minute when they were already facing a three-goal hole. Boone Jenner’s deflection of a Ryan Johansen blast from the point was the only puck to elude Khudobin, visibly annoyed at surrendering the shutout.

“I’m happy with the win, but I probably would be more happy if I didn’t get scored on,” he said, “But we got the result, we won, and that’s the most important for me.”

It was not without effort, though. Columbus pitched a shutout of their own, allowing no Carolina shots in the final 22 minutes. And that included a full two minute powerplay, a still anemic unit that went 1 for 5, only cashing in on Andrei Loktionov’s poke-in of a fumbled Jay Harrison shot from the point. Riley Nash also tallied an assist on the goal, marking one of the most unlikely scoring combinations of the season.

Though Patrick Dwyer added a third goal at the end of the second period on a blast past Sergei Bobrovsky, it wasn’t needed. Khudobin clamped down and went to work, winning a game against a playoff team in which neither the Staals, Alex Semin, nor Jeff Skinner registered a point.

“He’s been playing like that quite a few nights this year,” Kirk Muller said.

And he has. Of all goaltenders to play more than 1500 minutes, Khudobin’s .928 save percentage ranks tied for 5th in the NHL. He’s yielded more than three goals just once, but it was on a back-to-back where he probably shouldn’t have even started.

Vezina Trophy consideration is unlikely to be in the cards, however. If Khudobin appears in every remaining game — an unlikely event itself — he’ll have played in just 40 on the year. Since the current iteration of the Vezina Trophy began in 1982, no goaltender has won the trophy with so few games played in a non-lockout year. Tom Barrasso is closest with 42 in 1983-84.

For now, the ‘Canes will settle for simply winning games they “shouldn’t”.

“It’s funny, we’ve been on the other end so many times this year, out-shooting teams and coming up short. Changed it around tonight and your goalie wins a hockey game. I guess it balances out, but he was really good. He won us the game.”

Had the Hurricanes not coughed up a couple games surrounding the Olympic Break, this win would have featured playoff implications. Though they are not yet eliminated, they’ll likely need every remaining point on the schedule. But Muller’s team isn’t ready to throw in the towel.

“Don’t count us out yet,” he said. “There’s a lot of fight in the guys still.”

About The Author

Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7