Sergei Bobrovsky FLA routine tune in tonight

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It’s 10:38 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 minutes before the Florida Panthers' practice is scheduled to begin and three days before the start of the Stanley Cup Final, when Sergei Bobrovsky steps onto the ice at Baptist Health IcePlex carrying his sticks and coasts across the rink to one of the benches.

As is often the case, Bobrovsky is the first one on the ice, preceding goalie coach Rob Tallas by about two minutes.

Bobrovsky readies himself in front of the bench, securing his catching and blocker gloves and lowering his mask, before turning and gliding across the neutral zone and spreading his arms wide as if he’s ready to embrace whatever the day has planned for him.

This is the beginning of Bobrovsky’s on-ice progression, a sort of slow-motion combination of edge work, active stretching and mental preparation with which the goalie warms up for each practice and morning skate. Only a segment of the 35-year-old’s meticulous and somewhat mysterious process that sometimes leaves teammates and coaches shaking their heads, this Bobrovsky ballet provides some hints to how he has maintained his Vezina Trophy level of play after 14 NHL seasons.

After a brilliant 32-save performance in a 3-0 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Cup Final on Saturday, Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina winner as the NHL’s top goalie and a finalist again this season, and the rest of the Panthers had a day off the ice Sunday. But Bobrovsky was undoubtedly somewhere behind the scenes working on something to get ready for Game 2 of the best-of-7 series at Amerant Bank Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

“I’ve never seen someone who prepares like Bobby,” Panthers backup goalie Anthony Stolarz said. “It’s a testament to his success. He’s always out 20-30 minutes before even the goalie session, just working on his edges, always stretching. After practice, he’s in the gym doing his lifts. He kind of has his routine and he’s stuck with that.”

Bobrovsky stretches, skates during practice

Bobrovsky said he’s been doing this routine about seven years, going back to his tenure with the Columbus Blue Jackets, before he signed a franchise-changing seven-year contract with Florida in 2019. It followed his work with independent goalie coach Hannu Nykvist and movement coach Sami Karjalainen to revamp his regimen and lessen the stress on his body after he’d struggled to remain healthy the previous few seasons.

“It’s been a while,” Bobrovsky said. “It just helps me to get into the practice. I spend more time on ice rather than off ice, especially before (practice), and that helps me to get into it.”

Bobrovsky begins by slowly circling the perimeter of the rink, feeling the edges of his skates cut into the ice, left foot, right foot, until he completes one lap. This is followed by held C cuts for a half a circle each way, balancing on his left skate as he curls one direction and on his right in the other, back and forth in a deliberate slalom up the ice before turning around and doing it backward on each foot.

Although not as precise, it’s reminiscent of a figure skater doing compulsory figures.

As Bobrovsky turns at the end the rink, he tucks his stick under his left arm and circles his blocker arm forward and backward, then switches to his glove side to help loosen them up. He will occasionally mimic saving motions with his glove and blocker during the transition between exercises.

It might not be an accident that the gentleness and flow of Bobrovsky’s movements bear similarities to tai chi, the ancient Chinese martial art that is part low-impact exercise, part meditation. From working with Karjalainen, Bobrovsky incorporated some of facets of han mu du, a style of Korean martial arts rooted strength, agility and balance, and acknowledged his routine has some Far Eastern influences.

“I would say I try to get in sync with my mind and my body on the ice, how it’s functioning and the edgework and all that stuff,” Bobrovsky said. “As you get your body going, you get your mind going and you just prepare and make a little step towards the good feelings in practice.”

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Next, Bobrovsky drops to one knee and slides forward on his pad, stretching out one leg before switching to the other. He follows by pushing out on his inner edges down into a sort of half butterfly -- again forward and then backward -- before dropping into a full split while balancing on his inner edges and sliding forward.

When Bobrovsky stops at center ice, he remarkably pulls himself up on his inner edges in two or three small hops, finishing back in a standing position.

Most of what Bobrovsky is doing happens before coach Paul Maurice is on the ice. Having been around him for two seasons, Maurice has learned to mostly look the other way rather than wonder what his No. 1 goalie is doing.

“Some questions you don’t want to ask because then you may have to form an opinion,” Maurice said. “I don’t know the first time I saw it, but I’m leaving the rink after the pregame and I’m heading home, and I look down the hallway and he’s Olympic lifting in the hallway. He’s playing that night and I don’t know what the [heck] he’s doing, but I don’t need an opinion on that, and it’s really important that sometimes you just shut up and keep your eyes closed and keep moving.”

Maurice certainly can’t question the results. The Panthers are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth consecutive season since Bobrovsky joined them after missing the previous three seasons. They are also in the Cup Final for the second straight year.

After Bobrovsky went 36-17-4 with a 2.37 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and six shutouts (tied for the NHL lead) during the regular season, he’s found another gear in the playoffs, posting a 13-5 record with a 2.08 GAA, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

Bobrovsky has allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of his 18 playoff starts, including 12 of his past 13, helping the Panthers move within three wins of their first championship after they lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Cup Final last season. At 35 years, 262 days, Bobrovsky became the oldest goalie to open the championship round with a shutout, unseating Patrick Roy, who was 35 years and 233 days old when he blanked the New Jersey Devils for the Colorado Avalanche in Game 1 of the 2001 Cup Final.

“His preparation is incredible,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said Saturday. “You know his work ethic, his character, like everything you want in a teammate, especially a goalie, he is everything.”

By 10:45, Bobrovsky is doing some movement drills on his edges that most goalies do in and around their crease to warm up. Stolarz steps on the ice shortly after to begin his own warmup routine.

In his first season as Florida’s backup, Stolarz said he has talked a little with Bobrovsky about his routine.

“I just think it’s something that he kind of got used to, and he’s a creature of habit and he just sticks with it,” Stolarz said. “I always see him doing his edges every game day. I like to watch him in warmups before the games just when guys dump the pucks in, and we do the line rushes and just seeing how he does his little splits, and he can get up from a full split on his inside edges. It’s just super impressive.”

Bobrovsky needs help for the next part of his routine. Enter forward Steven Lorentz, who usually takes the ice around the same time as Stolarz and warms up with some skill work while waiting for Bobrovsky to signal that he’s ready to face shots.

Bobrovsky summons his teammate by shouting “Steve-O!” Lorentz responds by yelling “Bob-O!” and skates over to join Bobrovsky at one end of the ice, where Tallas has set up a group of pucks in the high slot.

“That’s just kind of been our thing,” Lorentz said. “I don’t know how that started, but we do it every time and that’s how I know he’s ready to rock and he needs me there.”

Lorentz inherited the job from retired forward Patric Hornqvist, now a scouting and development consultant for Florida, who was Bobrovsky’s warmup partner at the end of last season, when he could skate but was unable to play because of a concussion. Lorentz started doing it in training camp and continued during the season when he wasn’t playing much as an extra forward.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” said Lorentz, who has played in 13 of Florida’s 18 playoff games after dressing for 38 games during the regular season. “When I wasn’t playing there for a little while, I thought I might as well contribute in this way. If I can’t be on the ice playing games, I can help Bobby out.”

Some days, and usually during morning skates, Lorentz will do most of his shooting from the high slot area, beginning with Bobrovsky in a butterfly position. Lorentz shoots six pucks softly at Bobrovsky’s left pad that Bobrovsky either steers into the corner or wherever he wants the puck to go, and, after a break, when Bobrovsky skates around, does the same with the right pad.

“It’s almost scientific for him,” Lorentz said. “So, I just sit there and watch him and what he needs me to do. He tells where to shoot and I put that puck there every time. It gets him warm, and it’s clearly worked throughout the season.”

On this particular day, and with some extra practice time before the start of the Cup Final, Bobrovsky wants to face shots from some different areas and has roped in forward Kyle Okposo as a second shooter. Lorentz, a left-handed shot, takes shots from the top of the left circle, and Okposo, a right-handed shot, takes them from the bottom of the circle.

Then they switch to other side, with Okposo at the top of the right circle and Lorentz at the bottom.

“If we have a few days, then he likes to get both of us to do it,” said Okposo, who joined the Panthers in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on March 8. “He likes to have a right and a left shot. … He knows exactly what he wants and what he wants to work on and he’s just so diligent and dialed that it’s a lot of fun to shoot on him.”

Lorentz said Bobrovsky, “treats me like absolute gold,” and Bobrovsky clearly values the 28-year-old’s assistance.

“He’s the best,” Bobrovsky said. “I wouldn’t be able to do that without him, definitely. He’s willing to help. He’s always there and I really appreciate. He’s a big part of my development.”

Lorentz and Okposo continue to pepper Bobrovsky with soft shots while the rest of the Panthers skaters have taken the ice and are warming up around them. When Bobrovsky feels like he’s faced enough shots, he and Lorentz wrap by racing side by side from one end of the rink to the other.

Bobrovsky must have a pretty accurate inner clock because he’s usually done just as Maurice is about to blow his whistle at center ice to start practice.

“There’s starting drills, there’s the ending drills and then everything in between. It’s just all feel,” Lorentz said. “We might do a few things here and then he’ll be like, ‘No, I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to move the pucks here,’ and then just changes it up. Sometimes he wings it, but obviously what he does works.

“He knows he’s got to work on not just his strengths. I think he works on his weaknesses more and that’s what makes him such a great goalie.”