Sergei Bobrovsky leaves Game 4

EDMONTON -- Paul Maurice had seen enough of his star goalie being left to fend for himself.

So, at 4:59 of the second period of Game 4, the Florida Panthers coach made the decision to pull Sergei Bobrovsky, who has been brilliant all postseason, but especially in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers.

Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse had just scored, lasering a drop pass by Connor McDavid past the goalie for Edmonton’s fifth goal in what would become a desultory 8-1 loss at Rogers Place on Saturday that denied the Panthers the chance to claim the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history. 

The game was gone most likely, the dream of a sweep and a celebration with the Stanley Cup being obliterated in an assembly line of goals and odd-man rushes by an opponent gaining confidence by the shift.

“[Bobrovsky] had enough,” Maurice said. “If you think you’re mounting a comeback, rarely does the goalie make a difference for you. There’s something that happens at the other end of the ice.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to pull Bobrovsky, who was being harangued mercilessly by a rabid crowd that was delighting in mocking the man who had put them in a 3-0 hole in this series with brilliant goaltending. He had allowed four goals in the first three games and had a shutout in Game 1.

He stopped 11 of 16 shots in Game 4 after stopping 82 of the first 86 shots he faced in the Final.

So, it was time to focus on the next game, the next opportunity to put this series to bed and backup Anthony Stolarz was summoned for mop-up duty. He stopped 16 of 19 shots in his first action of the postseason and his first game since April 16.

“He comes in and he’s going to battle his butt off,” Maurice said. “It was great for him to get in. There are not a lot of silver linings here, people, but ‘Bob’ got some rest. I’ll take that.”

The next chance for the Panthers comes at Amerant Bank Arena on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC) and Bobrovsky will be a huge part of it.

So, why not lighten Bobrovsky’s load a little bit in anticipation?

“He’s played an awful lot of hockey,” the coach said. “My number [of goals] on Bob is probably five in general. That was the decision.”

The move had an added benefit; it woke up his teammates. Maybe not in Game 4, but certainly going forward.

It stung to watch Bobrovsky, the man responsible for so much of their good fortune this postseason, make the long, lonely trek to the bench. To hear the crowd chant at him, mocking him, reveling in his struggles.

“He’s been unbelievable all year, all playoffs,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “That was more of a wake-up call to the forwards and the ‘D’ as opposed to (him). It had nothing to do with Bob. It was more of a wake-up call to everybody.

“We know he’s going to come back better than ever. None of the goals were his fault. I still thought he made some unreal saves.”

SCF, Gm4: Panthers @ Oilers Recap

On the first goal, Bobrovsky was knocked out of the play by his teammate trying break up a 2-on-1 short-handed rush. Instead, Mattias Janmark bounced a shot that was likely going wide off Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov and into the net.

The second goal, by Adam Henrique, involved the Panthers losing a player at the defending blue line and then allowing Henrique inside position for the tip.

The third goal, which gave the Oilers a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission, saw defenseman Aaron Ekblad misplay Leon Draisaitl to set up a 2-on-1 finished by Dylan Holloway.

In the first 4:59 of the second, McDavid and Nurse scored to finish length-of-the-ice rushes that were keyed by successful stretch passes.

The Panthers were sure of two things when it was finished.

The Oilers played their best game of the Final and were using their speed in a way they had yet to in the earlier games. They believe they can fix that.

They also knew that Bobrovsky will be better in Game 5. It’s not even a concern.

“He’s the ultimate pro,” Panthers forward Evan Rodrigues said. “I expect him to bounce back. I wouldn’t expect anything less and I’m looking forward to it.”

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