Sergei Bobrovsky was solid upon entering tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers, but he waited until the most critical juncture to make one the most important saves of the year for the Blue Jackets.
It was an unfortunate penalty on Nick Foligno, and one that the NHL and its referees are watching closely this season: Foligno went down behind the net in overtime and closed his hand on the puck in an attempt to move it forward, but referee Marc Joannette spotted the violation from the side of the net, and it gave the Oilers a 4-on-3 power play with the hockey game in the balance.
Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu and Fedor Tyutin were the three penalty killers for the Blue Jackets, who had to deal with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle on the man advantage -- not exactly a cakewalk two minutes, one might say.
Bobrovsky, who made 18 saves in regulation, added a game-changer on Eberle in overtime: Nugent-Hopkins slid a pass through the box to Eberle at the back post, and though it looked like he had an open net, Bobrovsky got across and made a save that got his teammates fired up on the ice and on the bench.
"It was huge for momentum...huge," Anisimov told BlueJackets.com. "It's not easy to play 4-on-3, and it's not easy to defend. The first save...that was nice, big for us. It's a tough play for me because it's back-door and there's a guy up high, too. I couldn't catch him with my stick.
"Bob made that save and I'm like 'yes, we're still in this.' It was great."
While the game began frantically with five goals in the first 20:31 of play, Richards made the decision to slow the game down and get Bobrovsky between the pipes in relief of Steve Mason. The pace changed, and it was noted by a few players post-game, which made their systems play and rhythm much easier to get into.
Anisimov said that, in watching Bobrovsky made the necessary stops in regulation and then into overtime, the team got a confidence boost and took over the game.
"The game was so back-and-forth (in the first two periods), and in the third period, we stayed in our system and played our style," Anisimov said. "It was a huge penalty kill at the end of the game, and Bob made a couple of saves...they changed the game for us. He gave us a lot of energy and we believed that we could win."
And the goaltending changes have gone both ways this season, Richards pointed out. Bobrovsky struggled in the first period against St. Louis on Jan. 31 and was pulled early on, and when Mason came into the game, he didn't allow a goal the rest of the way.
The purpose of tonight's switch, Richards said, was making sure that the game did not game further away from the Blue Jackets -- and he was impressed with how Bobrovsky handled the situation coming in cold.
"Bobby was great," Richards said. "He made a couple of saves in traffic in the second period...when you put a goalie in and he's not warmed up properly and gets thrust in the game, you never really know how they're going to respond to it.
"It got up to that point, and the way the first period ended (with) their second goal and then the third goal -- we needed a save at that point. Again, the way the game was going, I felt I needed to make a change."