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Blue Jackets expect more from Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Saad

Goalie, forward struggled down stretch, in first-round series against Penguins

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- After the Columbus Blue Jackets had 50 wins and 108 points this season, each the most in their history, they'll be counting on more from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Ryan Murray to get past the Eastern Conference First Round next season.

In the case of Bobrovsky, it's hard to find fault with what he did in the regular season. He's a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after going 41-17-5 with seven shutouts and leading the NHL with a 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, though he was 0-4-0 with a 3.33 GAA and .875 save percentage in his final four starts.

But Bobrovsky was poor in the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, going 1-4 with a 3.88 GAA and .882 save percentage when the Blue Jackets lost their best-of-7 first-round series to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. He's 3-10 with a 3.63 GAA and .887 save percentage in the playoffs in his NHL career.

Video: Bobrovsky, Price, Holtby: Who will win the Vezina?

"He knows he's needs to be better in the playoffs. He will be better. I'm convinced about it," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Monday at Nationwide Arena. "He's that driven. He's always looking for ways to get better. I know that he wants to get better at a time it counts the most. I'm 100 percent confident he will get over that hump."

John Davidson, president of hockey operations and a former NHL goalie, knows what Bobrovsky is going through.

"My first playoff experience, ironically, was for [the St. Louis Blues] against Pittsburgh, and I wasn't very good," Davidson said. "I pride myself on being a good playoff player after that, but I had to go through that and learn."

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella often refers to Bobrovsky as their backbone, so the 28-year-old goaltender knows expectations of him are high, particularly in the playoffs.

"I'm going to deal with it and move on," Bobrovsky said Saturday, less than 48 hours after Columbus was eliminated. "So I will analyze that, what I should do better and what I should keep, and I will do better next year."

The Blue Jackets hope to get more from Saad down the stretch and into the playoffs in 2017-18. The 24-year-old had 53 points (24, goals, 29 assists) for a second consecutive season but 21 in 47 games after Jan. 1. He had one goal and two assists in the five games against the Penguins.

Tortorella came close to benching Saad for a game in the regular season, and then played him for two shifts totaling 1:45 in the third period of Game 1 against Pittsburgh.

"When you see his best game and his average game, there's too big of a gap," Kekalainen said. "When he's at his best, he can be a dominant force in the League. We expect that 82 times a year, there's no question about it. At Christmastime, he was the leading scorer in the National Hockey League 5-on-5. That's something that's encouraging."

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm2: Saad whistles a wrister into the twine

Murray broke his hand late in the regular season and missed the playoffs. The No. 2 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft was considered the Blue Jackets' top defenseman at times last season, but the arrival of Seth Jones in a trade with the Nashville Predators on Jan. 6, 2016, and the emergence this season of rookies Zach Werenski and Markus Nutivaara put him down to the third pair.

"It's a big summer for Ryan. For him and for us. He knows it," Davidson said. "We've had good talks with him. He's had good talks with our strength and conditioning people, our doctors.

"He's another year older. He knows he wants it. He saw some people go by him. He's a competitive kid."

Kekalainen is excited about getting Murray back healthy to rejoin the rest of the group.

"If we think Ryan Murray's in our third pairing, that's a huge luxury to have," he said. "I don't think too many teams in the League have that type of luxury."

Especially with Jones and Werenski at the top.

"I don't think you can find a better one-two punch around the League," Kekalainen said. "I would be very comfortable comparing those two guys to anybody's D, and they're going to get better."

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