'He's on another planet': Panthers buoyed by hardworking Bobrovsky
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sergei Bobrovsky needs a haircut.
The goaltender for the Florida Panthers uses a thin headband to hold some of his hair back these days. Long hair usually isn’t a problem for Bobrovsky at this time of year: When a season ends, he gets most of it shaved off and keeps the cut super-short until the next season begins.
This season is still going. As such, the hair is still growing.
So, too, is the legend of Bobrovsky, who was backing up Alex Lyon when these playoffs began and now has helped carry the Panthers into the Stanley Cup Final. Bobrovsky led the way to ousting points-record-setting Boston in Round 1, Toronto in Round 2 and then Carolina in an Eastern Conference finals sweep that included a four-OT victory in Game 1.
Games like those are why Bobrovsky has holes drilled into his skates; he sweats so much and sprays himself with so much water during games, and all that moisture running down his jersey, pants and pads has to drain out somewhere.
“He’s on another planet,” Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe said. “He’s been playing so well this whole playoff run. I mean, seems like whenever we need a big save, he’s there. Whenever something happens for (opponents) to get some momentum, he gets it back. He changes the whole game for us and he’s been unbelievable. He’s like a brick wall back there.”
Bobrovsky’s numbers over his last 12 games are brick-wall-esque, for sure: 11-1 record, 438 saves on 465 shots for a .942 save percentage, a goals-against average of 1.95. In nearly 100 minutes of overtime hockey, he’s seen 54 shots and stopped them all.
He’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and the Panthers landed him as a free agent with a $70 million, seven-year deal in 2019. He’s worth every penny of that deal right now.
“He’s been doing it all year and every year and now he finally gets rewarded to be in the Cup final,” said Florida forward Patric Hornqvist, who takes shot after shot after shot on Bobrovsky in practice, one hockey workaholic helping another. “My wife told me that he was actually crying when he knew we were going to make it. Those moments … those are so cool when a player really recognizes what kind of position we’re in.”
Goalies, by nature, are quirky, each with their own routine and belief about what works best. Panthers coach Paul Maurice stopped trying to figure out what makes netminders tick long ago. He often says he knows next to nothing about playing the position. He says hello to Bobrovsky in the morning, and sometimes that’s all that needs to be said.
There is a trust level there. Maurice doesn’t have to tell Bobrovsky to work hard. He knows the 34-year-old veteran with 13 years in the NHL will do whatever he feels is required to be at his best.
“That’s definitely awesome,” Bobrovsky said. “I’ve been in the league a little bit, you know, and I kind of know my body and my mind. I know the tools, what makes me, what prepares me. I definitely appreciate that trust. It’s great to feel that and it’s great to have that … that freedom in your environment.”
He’s earned it. Bobrovsky shows up for work early, leaves late, always locked in on the task. That doesn’t mean things always go according to plan.
This season was not easy. Bobrovsky was 12-13-2 with a 3.25 GAA in his first 29 games, along with a save percentage of .897. He got hurt in January, missed about three weeks, came back and was more of his normal self; a 12-4-1 record in his first 17 games after recovering from the back injury, with a 2.54 GAA and .915 save percentage.
And then he got sick in mid-March. The Panthers were in big trouble and needed a huge run just to make the playoffs. Lyon took over and became a folk hero, going 6-1-1 in the final eight games of the regular season. Florida kept Lyon in net to start the playoffs. Bobrovsky understood.
“Alex stepped in and played unbelievable hockey for us,” Bobrovsky said. “He brought us to the playoffs.”
In the Boston series, Maurice went back to Bobrovsky. The Panthers trailed the series 3-1 against a team that set an NHL record for regular season points, the overwhelming Cup favorites. Brad Marchand had a chance on a breakaway to win Game 5, and the series, for Boston at the buzzer. Bobrovsky kicked the puck away with ease to save the season. Fast forward a month, and Florida is playing for a title.
“It’s like a roller coaster,” Bobrovsky said.
If so, the Panthers are enjoying the ride. They’re on a long break right now, with Game 1 of the final against Vegas or Dallas not coming until this weekend. The Panthers will be rested, and Bobrovsky says his routine won’t be affected by all the time off.
This will be his first trip to the final. His inspiration is obvious, and if he ever needed a reminder, he merely would have to look at something hanging on the wall next to his stall in the Florida dressing room. It’s an image of the Stanley Cup with 16 holes cut into it, 12 of those holes filled by a puck commemorating each playoff win so far.
Four holes left. Four wins to go.
“We have to enjoy the enjoy the hockey,” Bobrovsky said. “This is the best hockey ever. You look at this thing, it kind of reminds you how hard we’ve worked to get to this point and how many great teams we’ve played against, how many great players already are out of the playoffs. And we’re still in. We’re still alive. We’re fortunate for that.”
The haircut is coming in a couple weeks. This time, it might happen with Bobrovsky as a champion.
“There's no superstition to what he's doing,” Maurice said. “He just works his butt off every day.”
AP NHL Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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