At the outset of the playoffs, the Florida Panthers had soured on Sergei Bobrovksy to the extent they had the two-time Vezina Trophy winner sitting behind Alex Lyon — a 30-year-old journeyman with 31 NHL starts under his belt.
Fast forward a month and Bobrovsky is the single biggest reason Florida is three wins away from the Stanley Cup Final.
To be fair to Florida, the team had no reason to believe the Russian netminder could perform at this level based on his regular-season numbers.
While he was solid in 2021-22, the veteran has been a massive disappointment since signing with the Panthers in 2019 on a seven-year deal with a $10-million AAV. During that time, his regular-season GSAA is a rough minus-12. There was every reason to believe the 34-year-old was more or less cooked a few weeks ago.
Now that would be an impossible argument to make.
In a 3-2 quadruple-overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final on Thursday, Bobrovsky stopped 63 pucks — the highest total of his career. It's not an exaggeration to say he stole the game for Florida.
— MoneyPuck.com (@MoneyPuckdotcom) May 19, 2023
That was the third-highest total of a career that included 702 NHL appearances to that point. Those performances made him just the third goaltender in the last 67 years to save 50-plus shots in consecutive playoff games.
Bobrovsky hasn't just turned the dial up in the last couple times out, either. Since his Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins, he's been completely stifling.
The story of his 2022-23 playoffs is missing a couple of chapters, but what he's achieved so far is nothing short of remarkable.
MoneyPuck has been tracking advanced goaltending stats since 2008-09. In that time, Bobrovsky's GSAA/60 (1.158) is the second-best mark a netminder who's played at least 10 playoff games has managed. The only man to beat him is Jonas Hiller, who dragged a 91-point Anaheim Ducks team to an upset win over a San Jose Sharks club that won the Presidents' Trophy in 2008-09.
In his 11 starts in this playoff run, Bobrovsky's saved 13.8 goals above average — five more than any other goalie.
Despite Bobrovsky's heroics, the Panthers have still allowed three goals per game in his outings. If he were giving them league-average goaltending, they'd be conceding more than four tallies a night. They almost certainly wouldn't have made it this far — and they wouldn't be playing quadruple overtime games.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) May 19, 2023
The Panthers aren't a one-man band. There are plenty of skaters on the team that deserve credit for their efforts — Matthew Tkachuk foremost among them — but it's hard to overstate Bobrovsky's importance to what Florida has accomplished.
You could argue that this is a classic example of the "goalies are voodoo" idea, as a guy who's hurt his team more often than not over the last four years has bent the trajectory of the playoffs to his will. That narrative doesn't fit that neatly with a player of Bobrovsky's talent.
He has been the best goaltender in the NHL at times during his career. A few years ago it wouldn't have been shocking to see him go on a run like this. At 34, he's on the older side, but plenty of goalie are effective into their thirties.
Whether what we're seeing now is an indication that goalies are totally unpredictable, or a sign that there are a few elite talents capable of stealing games and series doesn't matter to the Panthers. Florida is just enjoying the fact it gets to play with confidence in front of a brick wall on skates.
Although there's no one formula for playoff success, that's a pretty good place to start.