Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness has played three goalies in the playoffs but isn’t revealing which one will start Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday.
Anton Khudobin got the start in Friday’s Game 4 for the Stars, making 35 saves in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who lead the series 3-1. Bowness was asked before the game if the Stars’ result in Game 4 would impact his goalie call for Game 5 or if he had a predetermined plan for the back-to-back games.
“A little bit of both,” Bowness said, followed by a protracted chuckle from the veteran coach.
After Game 4, he didn’t divulge who will get the nod in goal Saturday.
“We’ll talk about that tomorrow,” he said.
Friday’s start marked Khudobin’s 23rd game played for Dallas this postseason, including 22 starts. He was pulled in Game 3 against the Lightning after giving up five goals in two periods and was replaced by rookie Jake Oettinger.
After that game, Bowness indicated that the back-to-back games and Khudobin’s work rate were both factors in pulling him for the third period.
“[Khudobin] has battled so hard the whole playoffs. You just give him a breather,” Bowness said after Game 3. “The back-to-backs are coming up. We gave the kid [Jake Oettinger] more experience and gave Dobby a break.”
Khudobin said after the game that he didn’t think he needed the rest.
“Coach made a decision to shake it up or change something. I didn’t feel like I needed to get rest,” he said, indicating that he was good to go for Game 4.
The team’s other goalie, Ben Bishop, was “unfit to play” in Game 4, along with center Radek Faksa and defenseman Stephen Johns. Oettinger was the backup. Bishop has been limited in the postseason because of a lower-body injury. He played in the round robin against Vegas, in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against Calgary and then was pulled in the first period of Game 5 against Colorado in the conference semifinals after giving up four goals in 13:43.
Bishop has been skating and participating in optional practices this week.
The status of Bishop for Game 5 is a critical point in the series. In his career, Khudobin is 5-6-0 with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage on zero days of rest. Those numbers influenced the Stars’ decision to sit him for Game 5 of the semifinals against Colorado, despite his having given the Stars a 3-1 series lead 24 hours earlier. Bishop said he was good to play in that game, and Bowness didn’t have the trust in Oettinger in an elimination game. Khudobin ended up playing 40:57 after Bishop was pulled.
Although it has been only 37 minutes and eight shots on goal, Oettinger has more of a taste for the playoffs now than he did on Aug. 31, when Bowness opted for Bishop. Still, Oettinger’s two appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the only NHL games he has played. The 21-year-old Boston University product became the first goalie in 55 years to make his NHL debut in the round before the Stanley Cup Final. The possibility exists that his first NHL start could be in the Stanley Cup Final.
Bowness said he has the final call on the goaltender and will consult with his assistant coaches and goalie coach, Jeff Reese.