Goalie Bob is back. Did he ever really leave?
Sergei Bobrovsky has turned in the playoff performance of a lifetime. In 14 games, he's 11-2 with 2.21 GAA and .935 SV%. Bobrovsky recorded his first career postseason shutout with his Game 3, 1-0 win, over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals.
And you've heard it before. If the goalie gets hot, watch out. It could be enough to carry a team.
We saw the Florida Panthers pull out the miraculous comeback against the historical Boston Bruins team that had 135 regular season points. Down 3-1 in the series and then trailing 3-2 until the final minute of the third period in Game 7, Florida capped off the comeback. It's the second time Bobrovsky has been on a team playing giant slayer in the playoffs ala the Columbus Blue Jackets 2019 sweep over the No. 1 seeded Tampa Bay Lightning with 128 regular-season points.
Since the Panthers' series win over the Bruins, they have been unstoppable, going a combined 8-1 over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.
Bobrovsky continued to stand tall, outlasting nearly four full overtimes and making 63 saves in the 3-2 Game 1 victory over Carolina. For the playoffs, he leads all goaltenders with 19.7 saves above expected per MoneyPuck.
Sergei Bobrovsky since going down 3-1 to Boston:— Big Head Hockey (@BigHeadHcky) May 24, 2023
.944 Save Percentage
Conn Smythe. pic.twitter.com/DplwDiwZnV
Bobrovsky's setting records and helping propel a Panthers team that needed a lot of help in the final week of the season to even make the playoffs. Of all teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins only needed wins over the Chicago Blackhawks or Blue Jackets and all of history would be different.
Instead, Pittsburgh ended up on the wrong side of the playoff dividing line while the Panthers are making their historic run.
And don't forget, the Panthers were the Presidents' Trophy winners last season, but are a very different team with new head coach Paul Maurice and potential Conn Smythe winner Matt Tkachuk as some of the most notable off-season additions. They're trying to become the third consecutive team to win the Stanley Cup the season after winning the Presidents' Trophy.
In addition to Tkachuk's offensive clutch gene with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists), four game-winning goals, and three overtime tallies, Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina winner, is playing some of his absolute best hockey at the most critical time of the year.
Sergei Bobrovsky set the record for most saves in a 4-game sweep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 168 (they started officially counting saves in 1956):— (@Arda) May 25, 2023
2023 Sergei Bobrovsky - 168
2003 JS Giguere - 165
1999 Dominik Hasek - 156 pic.twitter.com/FSkozP6v6I
And there's something to take away from that if you're a fan of a team, say the Blue Jackets, who have had less-than-stellar goaltending of late.
Bobrovsky hasn't had the best regular season numbers with the Panthers, and though he did have the Vezina-winning pedigree in his back pocket, the 2022-23 regular season was a struggle for the veteran, going 24-20-3 with 3.07 GAA and .901 SV%.
Not the numbers you hope for from your $10 million-a-year goaltender.
Highest Goals saved above average in the playoffs since 07-08— Big Head Hockey (@BigHeadHcky) May 25, 2023
20.72 Tim Thomas
14.66 Sergei Bobrovsky
14.40 Jonas Hiller
13.33 Mike Smith
13.30 Jonathan Quick
Two of these goalies won the cup during these seasons
Will Bobrovsky join them? pic.twitter.com/fRzZg3aOJ3
30-year-old Alex Lyon was the guy the Panthers leaned on to even make the playoffs. He started the first three games of the playoffs—his first career playoff action—before Bobrovsky made his playoff debut in Game 3. Bobrovsky has played every minute and then some since.
Sergei Bobrovsky in the 3rd round— Big Head Hockey (@BigHeadHcky) May 25, 2023
4 Games played
Bobrovsky allowed 6 goals the entire series
Bobrovsky had the following quote below when he decided to take his talents to the South in free agency following the 2019 season.
It doesn't matter what you win individually. Hockey's a team sport and it's all about the Cup. Only one team can win the Cup each season. That's my main goal. That's what I want to do. That's why I am here now. I believe in this team. I believe in this group.
With four wins to go, let’s see if the hot streak continues through the Stanley Cup Final. Maybe it provides a glimmer of hope for teams, like the Blue Jackets, to see their own goaltending shore itself up and get back to respectability.
Elvis Merzlikins showed he could play when he signed his five-year extension two years ago. Maybe a new coach and goaltending coach can unlock his past success.