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Jackets believe Bobrovsky can conquer playoff stage

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has earned accolades throughout his four years in the NHL. Winning a Stanley Cup Playoff game has not been one of them.

That could change Wednesday when he starts Game 1 of an Eastern Conference First Round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC).

Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, appeared in seven playoff games during his first two seasons while with the Philadelphia Flyers. He is 0-2 with a 4.04 goals-against average and .848 save percentage, compared to career regular-season numbers of a 2.46 GAA and .919 save percentage.

His last playoff appearance came against the Penguins on April 18, 2012. He made 13 saves on 18 shots after replacing Ilya Bryzgalov early in the second period of the Flyers' 10-3 loss.

"The biggest thing is, you want to hit your peak in the playoffs. It doesn't matter what we've done in the past," Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski said regarding Bobrovsky. "It's what we do now and going into the future."

Bobrovsky isn't the same player he was in Philadelphia. He has developed into one of the League's premier goaltenders by improving an .899 save percentage in his final season with the Flyers to .932 and .923 in his two seasons with Columbus.

Forward Ryan Johansen said the Blue Jackets are not worried about the possibility of Bobrovsky struggling in the postseason again.

"Just looking at him at the morning skate, I couldn't even get a puck by him. Not even close," Johansen said. "He's an unbelievable goaltender. He's the backbone of this team and we count on him.

"I think Philly, obviously, plays a totally different style than we do, so I think he has a lot of trust in our team and that we'll get the job done for him. He's proven himself the past couple of years in this League. For him, I think he's put it behind him."

Bobrovsky turned heads during the shortened 2012-13 regular season while going 21-11-6 and leading the League with a 2.00 GAA. He didn't replicate those numbers this season, primarily due to a strained groin that sidelined him in December, but closed the regular season possibly playing his best hockey.

Bobrovsky won five of his final six starts with two shutouts. He surrendered two goals or less 12 times since the beginning of March, going 13-5-2.

"Our goaltender, to me, he found his rhythm in his play, which was similar to the end of last season, and he's really the guy that drives this team," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "He gives everyone confidence who's playing in front of him. … We aren't going to win games 5-4. We have to win games 2-1, 3-1 and have a sound defensive game."

His late-season performances could play an even larger psychological role against the Penguins, against whom he surrendered three goals against in one appearance this season. Bobrovsky was pulled early in the second period after stopping 10 of 13 shots in Columbus' 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Nov. 1.

"Just looking at him at the morning skate, I couldn't even get a puck by him. Not even close."
-- Blue Jackets F Ryan Johansen

Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen said he doesn't expect the same type of performance out of Bobrovsky in another appearance at Consol Energy Center, and Pittsburgh has planned accordingly.

"You can point out his strengths and his weaknesses. So, we know where he is good and where we think we can attack him and shoot at him," Jokinen said. "He's an elite goaltender in this League, one of the best goaltenders. We need to do the little things: get the traffic, find the rebounds and find a way to score some goals."

The Penguins have been one of the few teams Bobrovsky hasn't had much success against throughout his career. He has a 5-4-1 record with a 3.05 GAA, his fifth-highest against any team.

Blue Jackets forward Mark Letestu expects Bobrovsky to play at the top of his game because Columbus will need him to have a chance at advancing past Pittsburgh.

"You can draw back on the past few Cup champions, they seem to have great goaltending," Letestu said. "Whether it be good defensive teams or a mix of the goaltending too. He's our best player. Is he going to have to steal us games? Probably, but I think we've got a good defensive group.

"I think we play a pretty sound game that is going to help him out, and he's always been there to make some big saves for us. We trust a lot in Bob and maybe put a lot on him, but we know he's up for it."

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