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Stellar season earns Vezina for Bobrovsky

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Sergei Bobrovsky had his share of doubters upon being traded from Philadelphia to Columbus at last year's NHL Draft. All he did was respond by being the top goaltender in the NHL the following season.

The 24-year-old was announced as the winner of the Vezina Trophy tonight, awarded annually to the goaltender judged to be the best in the league by NHL general managers. He beat out finalists Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks, who each had terrific seasons in their own right. This was Bobrovsky's first career nomination for the Vezina Trophy, the fifth career for Lundqvist and also the first for Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010 with Chicago.

Bobrovsky is also the first Russian goaltender to ever win the Vezina Trophy, which was awarded for the first time in 1927.

Bobrovsky, who won 28 games as a rookie with the Flyers after coming to the NHL from Russia in 2010-11, led the club to the Stanley Cup playoffs but was replaced by Brian Boucher after struggling in the postseason. The ensuing summer was a busy one for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who signed free agent Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract, effectively ending Bobrovsky's run as the starting goaltender.

Sergei Bobrovsky went 21-11-6 with four shutouts in 2012-13.

Former Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson traded draft picks to acquire Bobrovsky on the eve of the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh, and in Bobrovsky's debut season in Columbus, the organization got an encouraging glimpse of what he's capable of.

After stumbling out of the gates, the Blue Jackets righted themselves just past the midway point of the season and finally started paying off strong performances by Bobrovsky, who was magnificent for his SKA (KHL) club during the lockout.

Bobrovsky went 21-11-6 for the Blue Jackets with four shutouts and impressive goaltending statistics: a 2.00 goals-against average (tied for fifth best in the NHL with Rask during the regular season) and a remarkable .932 save percentage, second only to Ottawa's Craig Anderson, who played 14 fewer games due to injury.

His first shutout came on Mar. 9 against the Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena, a 3-0 victory in the midst of the Blue Jackets' 12-game points streak which pulled them back into the postseason hunt. The 29-save shutout was not only the first of his NHL career (in his 99th start), but it helped secure the franchise's first-ever season series win against the Red Wings with one meeting remaining.

Also among Bobrovsky's best performances of the season: a 1-0 shootout/shutout win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Mar. 16, a 34-save effort at Rogers Arena (albeit in defeat) to the Vancouver Canucks on Mar. 26 that resulted in his third shutout in nine games, and perhaps his best: a 3-2 shootout victory in Minnesota on Apr. 13 in which he absolutely befuddled the Wild.

He made 39 saves in regulation and overtime, and denied both Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu in the shootout to preserve a huge road victory.

Since beginning play in the 2000-2001 NHL season, the Blue Jackets have had three players win league awards. Former goaltender Steve Mason won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the the league's top rookie following the 2008-09 season, and Rick Nash shared the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals scored) with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk in 2003-04.

Nash was also awarded the NHL Foundation Player award for his service in the central Ohio community in 2009.

What's next for Bobrovsky? A new contract is atop the list of priorities for both his camp and the Blue Jackets, who have been engaged in negotiations to get the restricted free agent-to be signed to a new deal before July 5. Bobrovsky, who just completed his fourth NHL season, earned $1.75 million in 2012-13.

"A lot of people in Philadelphia thought this guy had a really good chance to be special," CBC's Elliotte Friedman told back in April. "He didn't get his chance there and he got his chance somewhere else and he grabbed it. He's gained a lot of respect and I don't think it will surprise anybody if he continues to be this good for quite some time.

"There's no question in my mind that the Blue Jackets have played better in front of him than other goalies in the last couple of years. And this team doesn't score a ton of goals, so he's going into every game knowing that his margin is very slim, and I think that if you're a guy that can win in those situations, you're a guy that a franchise can really lean on."

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