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Blue Jackets need Sergei Bobrovsky to save season

Columbus hoping goalie returns to top form against Penguins in Game 5

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- The Columbus Blue Jackets hope the turning point for Sergei Bobrovsky came on Tuesday.


[RELATED: Complete Blue Jackets vs. Penguins series coverage]


Bobrovsky allowed another bad goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins. As defenseman Ron Hainsey shot from the edge of the right circle, forward Bryan Rust set a screen. Bobrovsky lost sight of the puck, and it slipped between Rust's legs, under Bobrovsky's right pad and inside the far post with 3:36 left in the second period of Game 4. Bobrovsky looked from side to side as if wondering what the heck happened.

What had been a 3-0 lead was now 3-2. Columbus looked nervous. Pittsburgh kept pressuring. Had the Penguins scored again before the period ended, who knows? Maybe they would have won and swept this best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series.

But Bobrovsky kicked out his right pad to stop a Jake Guentzel shot from the slot. And stayed square to stop a Matt Cullen wraparound. And held his ground on a Scott Wilson point-blank chance. And kicked out his left pad to stop an Ian Cole shot from the point. And stayed square on a Phil Kessel shot from the right circle.

The Blue Jackets went on to win 5-4 and avoid elimination. Game 5 is at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, FS-O).

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Bobrovsky stones Hornqvist in close

"I think he wants the second one back," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said Wednesday. "But then he just stands strong with a couple huge saves, and I think that's great for really anybody's psyche. You make a mistake, and you go out there and then you make a great play, I think it gets you right back to where you need to be."

In his NHL career, Bobrovsky is 181-107-30 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in the regular season. He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender in 2013 and is the favorite to win it this year.

But he is 3-9 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even if you throw out his early days with the Philadelphia Flyers and count only his two runs with Columbus, the numbers aren't good. He's 3-7 with a 3.35 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

The opponents certainly have something to do with it. Columbus played Pittsburgh in the playoffs in 2014, after the Penguins tied for fifth in goals in the regular season. Pittsburgh led the NHL in goals this season. Facing Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company game after game can do a number on your numbers.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm4: Bobrovsky extends pad to rob Hainsey

Still, it's baffling.

Bobrovsky trains hard physically and takes a Zen approach mentally. He was not overworked the second half of this season and seemed primed for a good run. He went 10-0-2 with a 1.07 goals-against average and .968 save percentage from Feb. 26 to March 28.

Then he and his teammates struggled down the stretch. He went 0-4-0 with a 3.33 goals-against average and .875 save percentage in his last four regular-season games.

Perhaps it all snowballed: his playoff history, the stretch-run struggles and the heightened expectations of a team that set Blue Jackets records for wins (50) and points (108) and finished fourth in the NHL standings.

Bobrovsky allowed three goals on 29 shots in Game 1. He allowed three on 31 in Game 2, and two were particularly ugly. After the Blue Jackets dominated the early going, Bobrovsky went behind his net to play the puck and coughed it up to Conor Sheary, who threw it in front and Crosby ended up scoring for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead. Early in the third, with the Blue Jackets within one goal, he allowed a leaky goal to Malkin from a bad angle. He keeled over to his left in slow motion afterward.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm4: Bobrovsky shuts the door on Malkin

He allowed five goals on 47 shots in Game 3 and four on 31 in Game 4.

After going 41-17-5 with a League-leading 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in the regular season, he is 1-3 with a 3.61 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in the playoffs.

At least he said he felt "pretty comfortable" in Game 4. The Blue Jackets need him to be, not only for the rest of this series, but for the future.

"Bob hasn't been perfect, but we don't go anywhere -- anywhere -- if we're not on his back," Tortorella said. "He is the backbone of our team. He has had such a fantastic year, I think sometimes we get spoiled."

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