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Blue Jackets set for Bobrovsky's return to Columbus with Panthers

Goalie making first trip back since leaving as free agent after last season

by Craig Merz / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Sergei Bobrovsky returns to Nationwide Arena for the first time on Tuesday since leaving as an unrestricted free agent, but the Columbus Blue Jackets are viewing it as just another game.

Bobrovsky signed a seven-year contract with the Florida Panthers on July 1 after the 31-year-old played seven seasons and won the Vezina Trophy voted as the top goalie in the NHL twice (2013, 2017) with the Blue Jackets.

He'll make his first trip back to Columbus when Florida visits Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-O, FS-F, NHL.TV), but it will be the second time this season Bobrovsky will play against the Blue Jackets. He made 33 saves and came within 9:26 of a shutout in a 4-1 victory at BB&T Center on Dec. 7.

"This is a bigger story, I think, for our fans than for us," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said Monday. "We've already played against [Bobrovsky]. That story's been written for us. Now we look at it as we have to get a big win against a good team."

Bobrovsky owns Blue Jackets records for wins (213), goals-against average (2.40), save percentage (.921) and shutouts (33) in 374 games, but he left under circumstances that may result in a mixed reaction from fans.

He hinted during the 2018-19 preseason that he might not re-sign with Columbus and was suspended by the team for a game when he left the bench after being pulled in a game at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 8.

"I'm not sure [how he'll be received]," Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "But when he was here, he worked extremely hard, gave it everything he had for the team, for this organization."

The Blue Jackets will have a video tribute for Bobrovsky, as was the case on Dec. 5 when forward Artemi Panarin returned for the first time with the New York Rangers to a mixed response.

"I'm sure [Bobrovsky] is going to get some cheers for sure," Columbus forward Boone Jenner said. "He'd been here a while, meant a lot."

Sergei Bobrovsky with the 2017 Vezina Trophy as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets

 

Foligno did not want to speculate on how Blue Jackets fans will react.

"They're going to respond however they feel. That's their right," he said. "I'm not too concerned about it as long as they are cheering for us. That's my main concern.

"I think [Bobrovsky] is going to be fully anticipating whatever happens. Hopefully, they'll get under his skin, if anything."

It was expected to be the first game between Bobrovsky and his understudy of four seasons, Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, whose backup, Elvis Merzlikins, played against the Panthers in Florida. But Korpisalo injured his knee Sunday during a shootout against the Chicago Blackhawks and is out "weeks," Columbus coach John Tortorella said Monday.

Bobrovsky is 14-10-4 in 30 games (29 starts) this season with a 3.26 GAA and .898 save percentage.

"He's just another player we play against," Dubois said. "I played with him for two years. He's a great teammate, a great guy in the dressing room, but now he's another goalie on another team. It hasn't really changed anything.

"I respect him as a teammate, as a player, as a friend for everything he did when I was here."

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