Looking Back At Sergei Bobrovsky's Career: From Vezina's And Playoff Demons In Columbus To Conn Smythe Potential And More In Florida

By Will Chase on May 6, 2024 at 10:15 am
Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a save against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period in game five of the first round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Good teams need a lot to go right.

Playoff teams and Stanley Cup contenders need lots to go right, a little luck, and it never hurts to have a Hall of Fame caliber goaltender getting hot at the right time and backstopping the team through April, May, and June.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have enjoyed limited success in its 23-year run on the ice in Central Ohio. A few key members come to mind as the highlight of the franchise's best era, which saw the team make the playoffs between 2016-20.

More specifically, the 2019 playoffs when the Blue Jackets shocked the world and eliminated the Presidents Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in a four-game sweep.

John Tortorella was the head coach who helped change the culture. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen, president John Davidson, and assistant GM Bill Zito decided on Tortorella as the right guy to come in and fix things after Tortorella's ill-fated stop in Vancouver.

In June 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers traded Sergei Bobrovsky to the Blue Jackets for draft picks. Bobrovsky was an unproven goalie at the time in Philadelphia who was backing up Ilya Bryzgalov.

The Blue Jackets goaltenders the season prior were Steve Mason as the primary starter, with Curtis Sanford making 32 starts as his backup.

In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season the very next year, and with Bobrovsky stepping into the goalie rotation timeshare with Mason, the Jackets went on a surprise run, ending the season on a 19-5-3 tear and missing out on the playoffs due to a regular-season tiebreaker with the Minnesota Wild.

Nearly backstopping the Blue Jackets into the playoffs, Bobrovsky wrapped up 2012-13 with his first career Vezina trophy as he went 21-11-6 with a .932 save percentage, 2.00 goals against average, and four shutouts.

The Blue Jackets made the playoffs in 2013-14, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

With the Flyers in 2010-11, Bobrovsky started three games for the Flyers postseason run, made a backup appearance in 2011-12, and made all six starts in 2013-14 for Columbus, picking up his first two career playoff wins.

Columbus returned to the playoffs under Tortorella in 2016-17, with Bobrovsky claiming his second Vezina (41-17-5, .931 SV%, 2.06 GAA, seven shutouts).

Fresh off the best season in club history, the Blue Jackets were dispatched in five games to the Penguins, who went on to win the Cup. Bobrovsky struggled in the series going 1-4, .882 SV%, 3.88 GAA.

Sergei Bobrovsky,
2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Series Result
  Game 5 L, 5-2
  Game 4 W, 5-4
  Game 3 OTL, 5-4
  Game 2 L, 4-1
  Game 1 L, 3-1

The 2017-18 Blue Jackets fell in six games to the Washington Capitals, blowing a 2-0 series lead as the Capitals went on to win the Cup.

Bobrovsky was 2-4, .900 SV%, 3.18 GAA.

Sergei Bobrovsky,
2017-18 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Series Result
  Game 6 L, 6-3
  Game 5 OTL, 4-3
  Game 4 L, 4-1
  Game 3 2OTL, 3-2 
  Game 2 OTW, 5-4
  Game 1 OTW, 4-3

Bobrovsky had proven capable of being the best goaltender on the planet in the regular season but saw his play dip when the moment got bigger in the playoffs.

It wasn't all on Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets lost twice to the eventual Stanley Cup champion and weren't quite on the same skill level as those teams — Penguins and Capitals — that knocked them out.

Still, could Bobrovsky, bound to be paid as one of the highest-paid goaltenders in the sport, play lights out at the most critical time of the year?

No one gave the Blue Jackets a chance as the 2018-19 playoffs pitted the best regular-season team in NHL history at that point against a team that slotted in as the last wild card. The Lightning tied the league record for wins (62) and had 128 points that year.

Maybe the Blue Jackets would win two games at most.

Instead, the rest was history as the Blue Jackets overcame a three-goal first-period deficit, stole Game 1, and swept the series in four games.

Bobrovsky had his best playoffs to date, twice limiting the potent Lightning offense to one goal each in Games 2 and 3. The Jackets lost in six games to the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins — yet another team to go through Columbus and at least make the Final — and Bobrovsky turned in a solid postseason to help change the narrative: 6-4, .925 SV%, 2.41 GAA.

That offseason featured prominent unrestricted free-agent departures, including Bobrovsky getting his payday (seven years for $70 million through 2025-26) with the Florida Panthers. Zito, previously part of the Blue Jackets front office, became the Panthers GM in Sept. 2020 and was tasked with turning the Panthers into Stanley Cup contenders.

Florida Panthers Year Regular Season Playoffs
  2023-24 52-24-6, 110 Points ?
  2022-23 42-32-8, 92 Points Lost, Stanley Cup Final
  2021-22 58-18-6, 122 Points
Presidents Trophy
Lost, Second Round
  2020-21 37-14-5, 79 Points Lost, First Round
  2019-20 35-26-8, 78 Points Lost, Qualifying Round

While the 2021-22 Panthers won the Presidents' Trophy, I couldn't count out the back-to-back champion Lightning, and that proved correct as they dispatched the Panthers in a four-game sweep.

The 2022-23 Panthers made the playoffs on Apr. 11, 2023, after the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres were eliminated from contention. Then Florida went on their run, stunning the Bruins in seven games, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit as Bobrovsky once again backstopped his team over one of the greatest regular-season teams in league history. The '22-23 Bruins set league records for points (135) and wins (65).

Bobrovsky's playoff run that year sparked this article, as he looked like a Conn Smythe candidate.

Sergei Bobrovsky,
2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs
  12 6 2.78 .915

Looking back at Bobrovsky's beginning in Columbus and where he is now in Florida, he's twice helped knock off the league's best regular-season teams en route to changing his narratives about his playoff performances at the most critical times of the year.

One can pinpoint the sweep over the Lightning in 2019 as the jumping-off point for when Bobrovsky began to turn it around, but it wasn't all rosy for the netminder in Florida.

If you recall, he didn't even begin the 2022-23 playoffs in goal for the Panthers, as Alex Lyon started the series against the Bruins before Bobrovsky took over for the remainder of the playoffs starting with the middle of Game 3.

For his career, Bobrovsky is 396-224-55 with 700 games played and 686 career starts with a 9.15 SV%, 2.59 GAA, and 44 career shutouts.

In the playoffs, he's 33-36 with a .905 SV% and 3.01 GAA.

Bobrovsky could win his third Vezina this year and, most importantly, his first Stanley Cup. The Panthers certainly have a shot with the new and improved Bobrovsky in net.