SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sergei Bobrovsky knows how slim the difference is between success and failure, between a long run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and a long summer on the golf course. He knows that one goal or one save can define a legacy. 

Maybe, somehow, all that has happened to him and to his team over the past two seasons -- two runs to the Stanley Cup Final, a new reimagining of the Florida Panthers franchise, a reconsidering of his place in hockey history and his once-derided contract and, now, a Stanley Cup victory -- could have turned on a single moment. 

Think back, now, to a Brad Marchand breakaway with less than one second remaining in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round in 2023. Think of the save Bobrovsky made, keeping the score tied, enabling the Panthers to win in overtime, to extend their season, to complete a seven-game comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and, from there, make the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s not only forward, you push forward, there is behind too,” Bobrovsky said, back in March. “If there is a bad bounce and you’re done, wouldn’t be any hype or anything like that. You go to summer and you’re sad and you think about it and start to shuffle those thoughts and you recover. … You understand how funny it is, how the difference of those margins are so small and, just, it’s such a beauty thing of our sport.”

At some point, though, the bounces add up and the luck turns into skill, the story changes and a legacy is defined. That was what has happened over the past two seasons, over the seven games of this Stanley Cup Final and the 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games that preceded it.

Sergei Bobrovsky talks winning the Stanley Cup

Over the 60 minutes of Game 7, in which he made 23 saves on 24 shots, some mundane and some memorable, all of them adding up to a 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers that handed the Florida Panthers -- and Bobrovsky -- their first Stanley Cup championship. 

“It pretty much cemented it,” said Hall of Fame goaltender Roberto Luongo, who serves as special adviser to the general manager for the Panthers, of Bobrovsky’s legacy. “That’s the only thing that was missing for him. He’s won Vezinas, the Stanley Cup was the last thing he needed to accomplish. I think he did that. I’m so happy for him.”

So were his teammates.

After Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, lifted the Cup and took his traditional skate with the Cup, it was Bobrovsky he sought for the handoff. He lifted it, his face radiating joy, the Cup seemingly weightless in his hands.

“I think it’s tough to put it into words,” Bobrovsky said. “I’m so happy. The whole life, you work for this moment. I can’t even describe that. I want to thank God for the opportunity, for the experience, to put me here in this position. It’s all him.”

It is now hard to argue with his place in goalie lore, starting with a stunning shutout performance in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and again in Game 7, with scrambles and splits and kick saves that shut down two of the top offensive talents in the NHL, among all the rest of the Oilers. 

“He’s been our best player all year long, all playoffs long,” forward Sam Bennett said. “When we needed him the most, he stood on his head again tonight. It’s just incredible.”

But it was far from assured. 

Though Bobrovsky was nearly untouchable through a long stretch of the playoffs last season, going 11-1-0 with a .942 save percentage from Game 5 of the first round through the end of the Eastern Conference Final, these playoffs were more up and down, produced more questions. And yet, he kept winning.

EDM@FLA SCF, Gm7: Bobrovsky shuts the door in 3rd

Over the first three games of this Stanley Cup Final, Bobrovsky slammed the door on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, following rounds in which he -- and the Panthers defense -- did the same to Artemi Panarin and David Pastrnak and Nikita Kucherov, and enabling the Panthers to grab hold of the series before the Oilers had even taken a breath. 

At that point, he had a .916 save percentage through 20 games in the playoffs. Then he allowed five goals on 16 shots in Game 4 and four goals on 23 shots in Game 5 and three goals on 19 shots in Game 6 and a celebration that seemed assured was delayed. 

Suddenly, all the pressure was on the Panthers. On Bobrovsky. 

Between Game 6 and Game 7, Bobrovsky got away from the game, relaxed, spent time with his daughter, played with her, the person he calls “my personal inspiration, motivation, and anti-stress as well.”

“It was some adversity,” Bobrovsky said. “And to become a true champion, you have to overcome adversity. It wasn’t easy, obviously. It was three losses in a row. They scored lots of goals. But, again, we have a great group of guys. We work for each other. We love each other. We compete for each other. We did it.”

It was, in some ways, a microcosm of his career, a career in which he’s been lauded and criticized, venerated and panned, a player who has seemed to ride the rollercoaster from team to team, season to season, but a coaster that seems likely to pull into the Hockey Hall of Fame, when all is said and done. 

“It’s all a learning experience,” Bobrovsky said. “Every step, every bitter sip of it is worth it for this moment.”

Because it was not so long ago that the Bobrovsky contract was an albatross, the player washed. The consensus was that the goalie was holding the Panthers back, his $70 million, seven-year contract, signed on July 1, 2019, a burden.

At the start of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Bobrovsky wasn’t even starting, all of those millions relegated to the bench as Alex Lyon took the team from out of the postseason to on the bubble to into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, by a single point.

SCF, Gm7: Oilers @ Panthers Recap

But then he was starting and he was great and he outdueled the Carolina Hurricanes in four overtimes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final last season, making 63 saves in perhaps his best-ever game. But then again, he cratered in the Stanley Cup Final, allowing 21 goals on 135 shots in the five-game defeat, an .844 save percentage, after allowing 33 goals on 504 shots in the 14 previous games, for a .935 save percentage.

It was more twists in a career full of them.

“I feel like the career, it’s a journey,” Bobrovsky said, back in March. “There are stops. There are bumps and there is smooth. Every time you have a success or failure, you learn from it. Sometimes success is harder to handle than failure.

“Over the course of your career, you have different circumstances that, it’s not good or bad. It just is what it is, and you just have to learn and take the best out of it. The process continues -- I would say it’s not only hockey, it’s just life in general -- and that’s process goes all the way until you’re dead.”

Before last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, Bobrovsky had never made it beyond the second round. He had played 51 postseason games in the first nine years of his NHL career, adding 39 to his total in the past two seasons.

Block by block, game by game, Bobrovsky has added to that Hall of Fame candidacy, a resume that now includes two Vezina Trophies (2013, 2017) as the best goalie in the NHL, two All-Star nods, and a Stanley Cup.

“At the end of the day, you play not for trophies,” Bobrovsky said. “You play for the excitement of the game. It’s a recognition, it’s good, obviously, in some respect. But in the end of the day, you are a little kid inside who loves the game and works every day, work hard and enjoy it. Work maybe is not the right word. I’m just enjoying what I do. And I’m happy to be here and celebrate here.”

He is 14th all-time in wins by a goalie with 396 and, should he remain healthy, could easily rise to 11th next season, passing Glenn Hall and his 407 wins. If he does so -- and he recorded 36 wins in 58 games this season -- every single goalie above him on the list, other than Curtis Joseph (seventh, 454 wins) and Marc-Andre Fleury (second, 561 wins) are already in the Hall of Fame, and Fleury is guaranteed to join them once he retires.

Bobrovsky is legendary for his work habits, his workouts, his dedication to the details of his game and the game. There is his dance-like warmup, there are his bike rides to the practice rink -- when most of his teammates are riding golf carts -- there is the work that would often delay buses back to hotels or off to the airport for his teammates, none of whom could summon up the means to be annoyed because they knew he always, always, gave and did everything for them.

That work, now, has paid off. Bobrovsky, once questioned, never will be again.

He is a Stanley Cup champion. He took a Game 7 that would have been easy to let slip through his fingers and he grabbed hold. He allowed only a single goal past him, a single blip, the Mattias Janmark goal at 6:44 of the first period, and nothing else, nearly his every save being greeted by “Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!”

“I’ve got to tip my hat off to him,” Luongo said. “That’s not easy to do what he did. I’ve been in the shoes. To come back and play a game like he did when everybody feels the pressure of the world on your shoulders. It takes somebody special to do that. He proved tonight that he’s one of the best.”

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