NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky certainly has a special place for the Vezina Trophy he won in 2013. However, it's helping the Blue Jackets reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the second time in franchise history that resonates with him.
"Most important is team success," Bobrovsky said. "Of course it's really good to win the Vezina, to have the honor of being the best goalie in the NHL. It's a great feeling. But what makes you feel really good is team success. And that is an all-around feeling; everyone feels good, feels proud about the team success."
Bobrovsky was a big reason for the Blue Jackets' success last season. In 58 games he went 32-20-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average, a save percentage of .923 and five shutouts. The Blue Jackets finished as the first wild-card team in the Eastern Conference and drew the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Their previous playoff appearance, against the Detroit Red Wings in a Western Conference first-round series in 2009, ended in a four-game sweep. This time things went a bit differently.
In Game 2 against the Penguins, Bobrovsky made 39 saves in a 5-4 overtime win at Consol Energy Center for the franchise's first-ever playoff victory. Four days later at Nationwide Arena in Columbus for Game 4, it was another history-making moment as the Blue Jackets won a home playoff game for the first time, with Bobrovsky making 22 saves in a 4-3 overtime victory.
The Blue Jackets lost the next two games of the series, including the decisive Game 6 in Columbus when the Blue Jackets lost 4-3 after trailing 4-0 with 9:39 left in the third period. However that didn't sour any of the memories for Bobrovsky. He said the reaction from the fans after the Game 4 victory remains fresh all these months later.
"The city went crazy," he said. "I almost always am the last guy to go out of the locker room [after games], and I walked back home and I could still hear them cheering for us, still cheering. I was so shocked."
Bobrovsky had been through the playoffs before, starting three games and seeing action in three others as a rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2011 postseason. But then he was a 23-year-old rookie in his first season in North America. He also spoke little to no English, and was one of three goaltenders to start in a seven-game first-round series against the Buffalo Sabres.
Older, wiser and better able to communicate now, Bobrovsky said he was able to appreciate his accomplishments more last season.
Goalie - CBJ
GAA: 2.38 | SVP: .923
"It's great you understand the people, you understand the culture," he said. "You can better understand the coaches too. You can tell something that you feel, you can tell something about you. That makes better relationships with coaches and the guys, all the people around you."
Bobrovsky doesn't need to say all that much for his teammates to see the kind of player he is. The Blue Jackets haven't had a captain since Rick Nash was traded to the New York Rangers in July 2012. Bobrovsky had arrived a few weeks earlier and bonded quickly with the remaining young core.
"We've grown up together and that's a really good thing," Bobrovsky said. "We know each other better, we keep pushing each other."
Bobrovsky said having a defined captain who can serve as a locker-room role model is the ideal, but in the absence of that person the players have taken to trying to energize each other. When asked if he was one of the bigger energizers on the roster, Bobrovsky tried to play coy; a team official, however, adamantly said Bobrovsky was.
"I try to work hard and get better," Bobrovsky said. "I've got some views on how to do that and I try to put in lots of effort to get there. It's tough for me to say that I'm a good example for the guys or not. I try to be better and help as much as I can this team to get better."
The definition of "better" has changed as the Blue Jackets have improved in two seasons with Bobrovsky in goal. Especially after last season, just contending for a playoff spot isn't enough. For Bobrovsky, higher expectations are fine with him.
"I think all the good teams, they set out their goals and try to reach them," he said. "… We need to be consistent in the season to keep our work ethic at a high level to fight and compete for each other. That makes our team better. And individually it makes each guy better."