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Bobrovsky building reputation for Blue Jackets in playoffs

Goalie inspiring confidence from teammates heading into Game 2 against Bruins

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

BOSTON -- What if Sergei Bobrovsky doesn't make that save on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov 26 seconds into the second period of Game 1 in the Eastern Conference First Round? What happens then to the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie with a history of sub-par performances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

"I think mentally that save helped his confidence," Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson said.

Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets needed it, probably then more than ever, down 3-0 against the Lightning after 20 minutes in Game 1, on the verge of a nightmare scenario with the naysayers already whispering, waiting for the end of Game 1 to scream.

 

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

 

Bobrovsky didn't let them. He hasn't yet in this postseason. 

For the first time in his NHL career, Bobrovsky has been his team's best player in the playoffs. The difference is striking.

Columbus swept Tampa Bay with Bobrovsky posting a 2.01 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. It was the first time the Blue Jackets won a playoff series in their 19-year history.

Columbus lost Game 1 of the second round against the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime on Thursday, but without Bobrovsky's brilliance in the first period, it never would have been close and the Blue Jackets likely wouldn't have the same level of confidence and optimism they have going into Game 2 at TD Garden on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Video: CBJ@BOS, Gm1: Bobrovsky gets across to rob McAvoy

Bobrovsky has won the Vezina Trophy twice in his career, in 2012-13 and 2016-17, but has arguably never played better than he has in the past two-plus months.

"I've been fortunate to be with him for a few years and he's played at a level I haven't seen and it continues in the playoffs," Columbus coach John Tortorella said.

Atkinson concurred.

"His mindset right now, I've never seen it like this," he said. "His confidence level and his demeanor and how he goes about his business is the best I've seen since I've seen him here."

Why now? What is different about Bobrovsky in this postseason?

He came into these playoffs with a 5-14 record, a 3.49 GAA and .891 save percentage in 24 career appearances. 

"From a coach's point of view, I think he's [ticked] off," Tortorella said. "I do. I think he's [ticked] off at some of the thoughts about his play in playoffs. People have a right to talk about it."

Bobrovsky rarely has, though he said on Friday he used to from time to time go through the torturous task of looking at his career playoff numbers. 

"Not fun," he said.

He saw 10 goals against on 81 shots in six appearances in 2011 and five goals on 18 shots in 37 minutes for an 8.11 goals-against average and .722 save percentage in 2012. 

In three previous postseason appearances with the Blue Jackets (2014, 2017 and 2018), Bobrovsky had five wins in 17 starts, an .898 save percentage and 3.37 GAA.

Unsightly. Unfriendly. Unacceptable.

"On the other hand, I look at every opportunity as separate," Bobrovsky said. "I try to live in the present."

He's living well, finally.

"I don't agree that you can point finger at one person and say he's bad in the playoffs," Bobrovsky said. "It's a team sport. We play, we win and we lose as a team. Obviously, yes, I have the big responsibility for the team, but on the other hand every year is a different year."

Video: CBJ@BOS, Gm1: Bobrovsky denies Wagner's bid in OT

There are tangible reasons for Bobrovsky's success this postseason. 

He was feeling good about his game, riding a long hot streak entering the playoffs. 

Bobrovsky was 13-6-0 with a .933 save percentage, 1.90 GAA and six shutouts from Feb. 22 to the end of the regular season, including wins in six of his last seven starts before the playoffs. 

He erased concerns teammates might have had about his postseason history by how he played down the stretch.

"He's been our best player," Atkinson said. 

Not coincidentally, Bobrovsky's hot streak kicked inf around the time the Blue Jackets acquired goalie Keith Kinkaid in a trade from the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 25.

Kinkaid has not gotten into a game yet, but his presence in practice allows Columbus to still have two goalies with Bobrovsky either taking a day to rest or time away to do detailed work on specific areas with goalie coach Manny Legace.

Bobrovsky practiced with the Blue Jackets once during the eight-day break between the first and second rounds. He did not practice Friday.

"I give credit to the organization that they brought [Kinkaid] in and they gave me a little bit more flexibility to prepare for the games," Bobrovsky said. 

The formula is working. Bobrovsky is thriving.

So, sure, we can ask what if he never made that save on Kucherov and Columbus fell into what would likely have been an insurmountable 4-0 hole in Game 1 against the Lightning?

It's legitimate to wonder, but also irrelevant because Bobrovsky made the save, along with many more since to finally give the Blue Jackets a chance to win in the postseason.

"When he's on top of his game, he's arguably the best goalie in the League," Atkinson said. "And he's been on top of his game."

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