As Sergei Bobrovsky met with the media in the Blue Jackets locker room Tuesday, he wore a scruffy brown beard that was as thick and long as any he's sported over the past few years as the Columbus goaltender.
That, of course, is largely because Bobrovsky has had his best postseason as the Blue Jackets goaltender in his fourth go-round as the team's starter. The Russian continued what had been a torrid end to the regular season against the Bolts, allowing eight goals in the four games and posting a .932 save percentage.
Bobrovsky hasn't been vocal when it comes to whether exorcising previous postseason demons has been at the forefront of his mind -- his comments down the stretch and into the playoffs are that he's been focused only on stopping pucks -- head coach John Tortorella hasn't been afraid to tackle the subject.
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"I'm proud of Bob," Tortorella said. "I'm not saying some of the questions about playoffs were wrong. I have never backed away from that. I've asked the questions, too, about him, and I think it's a fair question as we've gone through it over the years.
"I think Bob has basically, for one round here, given (that narrative) the finger. I just think he's handled himself so well."
That was especially true after a three-goal period in the opening game of the Tampa Bay series. From that point on, Bobrovsky was stellar, allowing just five goals over 11 periods of play and backstopping all four wins.
Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm1: Bobrovsky shuts down Kucherov in tight
His power-play save on Nikita Kucherov, on a 2-on-0 pass across the crease from Steven Stamkos, was one of the turning points of the series when it early in the second period of Game 1.
"He (settled) himself," Tortorella said of his goaltender after the wobbly start. "That's so cool to watch as an athlete. To me, that is really cool to watch an athlete where people are kind of poking at him, step up to the plate in a fashion that he has right there. He played some outstanding third periods for us.
"I'm proud of him, but I say that very carefully because we're just starting, and I think Bob feels the same way too. I've always loved his preparation, and I'm glad he has something to stand on now to get ready for the second round."
Columbus' upcoming series will be the third time Bobrovsky has been on a team to advance past the opening round and the first time since 2012, when he was with the Flyers, it has happened. To get ready, Bobrovsky was granted a pass from team practices Friday and Saturday as well as Monday's scrimmage to prepare his mind and body for the task ahead.
He's worked with goaltending coach Manny Legace rather than with the whole team before returning to the full-team practice Tuesday, and Bobrovsky feels he's ready to go for the next round.
"I have that time to rest a little bit and get time to do my off-ice stuff to get ready, to prepare my body," he said. "All the details, all the little things, it's just to prepare and get ready for the next round.
"I feel good. Obviously the hockey will tell, but it is as planned. I feel good, I feel ready, so let's see what is going to happen."
Another bit of good news is Columbus has been in a position to keep Bobrovsky fresh down the stretch. With Columbus boasting three goaltenders, Bobrovsky was given a full day off multiple times down the stretch, and the more than weeklong layoff the team endured after the sweep should keep ready the goalie known for his fanatical and technical level of preparation.
The team has also helped Bobrovsky when it comes to how it has played in front of him. The defensive effort has been solid this postseason, with the goaltender seeing the puck well and able to get into a rhythm. That ability to read the play has helped him make the more spectacular saves, such as his toe stop on Tyler Johnson in Game 4 or his swallowing of a redirection front in the third period of that game by Brayden Point.
Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm4: Bobrovsky stops Point's scoring chance
"I think the more and more playoff hockey you play, the more you feel comfortable in the situations you're put in," Tortorella said. "I do think the team, I think we've played pretty well in front of him along the way here and put in some good minutes away from the puck. But he has, in times of games when we need a huge save, he has made them."
"The job is not done, so I think he's hungry for more," captain Nick Foligno added of the goaltender. "It's great to see him playing like that. I think he feels good, but we need it to continue. We all need to play well in front of him in order for him to continue to feel good. He has our back, and we have his, and it's been a real good recipe this first series."
For his part, Bobrovsky continues to go day by day, moment by moment, practice by practice to prepare to play the kind of hockey he's capable of. At the same time, he's not shying away from the fun of the experience, including two raucous crowds in Nationwide Arena in the opening round.
"Of course," he said. "I enjoy the whole atmosphere. It is so much fun to play in this kind of atmosphere. The fans give us huge support. You feel the energy, you feel that atmosphere. It's great."