How Sergei Bobrovsky turned a mediocre season into an outstanding playoff run

Ron McLean joined Evanka Osmak and Ken Reid on Sportsnet Central to discuss the Florida Panthers taking a 3-0 stranglehold on the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, with a focus on an incredible run by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Sergei Bobrovsky was a non-factor during the Florida Panthers’ late-season playoff push.

The veteran goaltender, whose $12 million salary this season is the highest at the position, did not start the final eight games of the regular season, watching from the bench as journeyman Alex Lyon went 6-1-1. In his first start of the playoffs, Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 30 shots in a Game 4 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Since then, however, Bobrovsky has been virtually unbeatable, winning 10 of 11 games and bringing the Panthers to the cusp of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1996. Bobrovsky has stopped 67 consecutive shots and 110 of the past 111 he has faced.

“Dominik Hasek did it to me,” Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters Tuesday, comparing Bobrovsky’s recent dominance to that of the Hall of Famer. “I remember playing against Buffalo, and it was the exact same feeling. (Goaltenders) can do that when they’re on a stretch like that. You throw everything at them, and you come home and just say, ‘I could have had four or five (goals).’”

Bobrovsky’s struggles in net were a big reason why the Panthers were on shaky ground so late in the season. He surrendered 18.6 more goals than expected, which ranked 58th out of 66 goaltenders who played at least 1,000 minutes. Comparatively, Bobrovsky has prevented an extra 9.4 goals over his past 11 games, including 7.3 against the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. (He has stopped 42 of 44 slot shots — 21 of 22 from the inner slot — through three third-round games.)

In particular, Bobrovsky’s ability to track the puck through traffic has greatly improved. Opponents scored 11 goals against Bobrovsky on 133 screened point shots during the regular season — a .917 save percentage that was 56th among qualified goaltenders. Bobrovsky has stopped 54 of 56 such shots (96.4 per cent) over the past 11 games.

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Bobrovsky has also been much better at reading plays that require him to move laterally, turning aside 24 of 29 shots (82.8 per cent) that follow seam passes in his past 11 starts. He was well below average in that area during the season, posting a .693 save percentage on shots following seam passes (39 goals against on 127 shots).

It took Bobrovsky until his 58th career postseason start to record his first shutout Monday — the most by any goaltender in NHL history. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner is writing his redemption story in these playoffs.

“Every game, every day, people (are) talking about him, and he deserves even more (recognition) than that,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov told reporters recently. “He’s been our backbone and he’s been giving us a chance to win every game.”

All stats via Sportlogiq

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