Sergei Bobrovsky has been unbeatable in net for the Florida Panthers and has them on the verge of a historic Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
“Won more.” That’s all it will take for the Florida Panthers to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1996, where they will look to rewrite their history as the Colorado Avalanche swept that team.
The Cats defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 on Monday night in front of a raucous 19,873 at FLA live arena to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the best of seven Eastern Conference Finals. The series score would indicate the Panthers have dominated this series. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Akin to the first two games, the Hurricanes defeated play yet came up empty-handed due to the brick wall that is Sergei Bobrovsky. The netminder added to his legendary postseason with a 32-save shutout, including eleven in the third when the Panthers were outshot 11-2.
The 34-year-old netminder improved to 10-1 with a .978 save percentage, a 0.69 Goals Against Average, and a +19.5 Goals Saved Above Expected, according to Moneypuck.com. He was sensational and had Carolina players looking skyward in disbelief several times. There was his missed attempt to poke-check Jalen Chatfield’s pass from behind the net to Sebastian Aho before making a brilliant recovery to stonewall the Carolina forward. There wasn’t enough time to push off his posts from right to left, so he dropped his stick and lunged his blocker pad out in the perfect spot to stop the shot. A few moments later, he stopped Aho again, with his head, before robbing Seth Jarvis on the doorstep with his right pad after an impressive redirection through Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s legs.
Bobrovsky’s mechanics were impeccable. He even angled a Brett Burns clapper to go off his body and deflect away, hitting the left post. Remember, although it’s a two-time Vezina trophy winner we’re talking about here, this is the same guy who rode the bench for the first four games of the Panthers’ playoff run. But since he recovered the starters of the net, Bobrovsky has been unbeatable.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been a brick wall for the Florida Panthers during this Stanley Cup run
“It’s been great. I thought guys did a great job in front of me (the) whole series, whole playoffs,” he told TNT. “They box out. They work so hard to get that result. It’s a team effort. You get (a) lucky bounce, you get lucky here and there, and you come out with this result. So I’m just fortunate and humbled to be in this spot.”
While it may seem like Bobrovsky is trying to be modest here, he’s right.
Florida’s defense has done its part in crucial moments, denying the Canes of additional attempts to beat their superior iron curtain. The blind trust between the goalkeeper and blue liners showcased itself both at the beginning and end of the contest. Midway through the opening stanza, Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho found himself alone below the hash marks and saw a wide-open Jalen Chatfield in the slot. The composed Bobrovsky kept his arms tight to his body, not allowing Aho to make a move.
Most importantly, he trusted Ekblad to cover the back door play, taking away the pass. Aho was left with no choice but to give it his best shot, and although he did, Bobrovsky could center himself and make the save to keep the game scoreless.
Then, with 3:22 remaining in regulation and desperate for the game-tying tally to snap their scoring woes, Carolina pulled goaltender Frederick Andersen, who made 16 saves on 17 shots, for an extra attacker. But the Panthers stood tall, clogged the middle of the ice, and blocked four shots, only letting one get through, which of course, their star goalkeeper stopped.
Offensively, the Panthers have struggled to apply sustained offensive zone pressure since their 3-2 quadruple overtime victory in the series opener, as they scored twice in their game two overtime victory and just once on Monday.
But their strong forecheck has allowed them to remain competitive and be opportunistic enough to support Bobrovsky. It may not seem like much, Yet when you have a red-hot goaltender like Bobrovsky, sometimes one is all you need. That came off the stick of forward Sam Reinhart, who, at 10:05 of the second period, buried Mathew Tkachuk’s feed in the slot on the power play, sending the crowd into a frenzy, and the Hurricanes into fury.
When the final horn sounded, Jesperi Kotkaniemi smashed his stick in frustration going down the tunnel.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Carolina controlled an astonishing 73.49 percent of shot attempts in Game 3, with 75.61 percent of scoring chances and 77.83 percent of expected goals at five in five, and still couldn’t buy a tally. So What gives?
“We can’t do much more,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We like how we’re playing. It’s just we’ve got to find a way to put one in.” Yes, it’s that simple. Bobrovsky lives rent-free in the Hurricanes’ heads, who can join the record-setting Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs on Sergei Street as early as Wednesday night.
Adding insult to injury, Brind’Amour was furious with the officiating too.
Late in regulation, Reinhart’s stick made contact with Hurricanes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere’s face with just over two minutes remaining and Carolina’s net empty. Despite the incident, no penalty was called. The referee blew the whistle but failed to explain why he stopped play. “The stick to the face, I thought he called,” Brind’Amour said postgame. “He stopped the play. Whatever, that’s not the difference. We’ve gotta get more than one, anyway. But that adds to the frustration in the game. No doubt about it, right?
“Especially when they stop the play. I don’t understand that. You stop it because you saw a high stick. Why are you stopping the play, then? I don’t know. No explanation. Move on.” The Hurricanes coach also voiced his discontent with the officiating in general, citing various instances where penalties were called against his team for what he perceived as minor infractions.
“I could go on all day on that,” he added. The Panthers benefited from four power plays, only converting on one for the lone goal.
In contrast, the Hurricanes received just one power play opportunity yet still outshot Florida 32-17. Still, it didn’t matter, as Hurricanes have struggled to solve the Bobrovsky puzzle. The Panthers’ goaltender has stopped 132 of the 135 shots he has faced in the series, including 109 of the last 110. It has been his postseason, and we’re just living in it.