COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the exception of Sergei Bobrovsky’s return to Columbus on New Year’s Eve 2020, when the Panthers and Blue Jackets have gotten together lately, the goaltending has been pretty darned good.
Tuesday night, Bobrovsky and former understudy Joonas Korpisalo put on a clinic.
If you like good goaltending, you would have loved this game.
You may have even seen some of the saves on the highlight shows.
For Bobrovsky, who has played well against his former teammates following that initial trip to Nationwide Arena, the SportsCenter-type saves were just a bonus as he and the Panthers pulled out a 4-2 win.
Korpisalo made the most spectacular save of the night, somehow filling up an empty net when Sasha Barkov was taking his shot.
“That’s just desperation, trying to get something in there,’’ Korpisalo said afterward. “Just threw my stick there and the puck hit it.”
Later, he made a similar stop on a shot from Gustav Forsling. Had Korpi not been in net for the Jackets, Florida may have won by five or six goals.
As it was, Bobrovsky and the Panthers ended up getting their second win in Columbus this season.
It was fitting that the two goalies would be 1-2 in the ‘Star of the Game’ voting.
Before beating the Jackets in a shootout here back in January, Florida had not won in Columbus since 2015.
Since leaving Columbus for the Panthers on July 1, 2019, Bobrovsky has gone 3-1-1 against the Blue Jackets with two wins at Nationwide.
The way he has been playing, don’t bet against him starting Thursday’s game here as well as the two teams conclude the Ohio side of this eight-game season series.
”Bob was great,” Joel Quenneville said. “I like the way he has progressed over this past stretch of games. This was his best.”
Added Bobrovsky: “I feel great, the last five or six games I have felt unreal. I feel focused, strong and confident. It is fun to be part of this team. They play great and someone steps up every night to deliver.”
Korpisalo had to be on his game from the start as Florida put the rush on early.
After somehow stopping Barkov’s shot on a power play, he gave up a soft backhander from a driving Juho Lammikko as the Panthers took a lead it would not surrender.
Florida, which has won three of its past four games, made it 2-0 early in the second period when Aaron Ekblad fired off a shot from the top of the left circle that clipped Patric Hornqvist and went through.
Columbus cut the deficit in half on a nice drop from Eric Robinson to Michael Del Zotto, but Florida was able to get the two-goal lead back on Owen Tippett’s power play blast with 1:48 left in the second period.
The Jackets made it a one-goal affair again when Oliver Bjorkstrand charged in and deflected a Zach Werenski shot in front of Bobrovsky and through at 11:38 of the third.
Carter Verhaeghe ended the scoring, getting an empty net goal with 23 seconds left.
Bobrovsky ended the night with 38 saves including 16 in a sloppy, turnover-filled third period.
Korpisalo had 29 saves.
”It was a good game, I faced a lot of shots,” Bobrovsky said. “I thought the guys helped me a lot there.
“I knew Columbus is a good, hard-working team and that they would put the puck on the net, work around the net. It was a great battle. Korpi made great saves. It was fun, definitely fun to be back and play against the Jackets and get the win.
”I respect those guys, that organization a lot. It’s a great feeling to get the two points.”
First period highlights
The Panthers were a jumpy bunch as they flew out of the gates.
Patric Hornqvist almost put the Panthers on the board just 20 seconds into the game but Korpisalo was there for the save.
Florida got an early power play chance and Sasha Barkov looked like he had an empty net — only Korpisalo did his best Superman impression and leapt out of nowhere to stop the shot.
Barkov had taken a hit in the slot earlier in the game and was slow to the bench. Although he participated in Florida’s first power play, he was not on the ice for the second as Quenneville confirmed he was being looked, mentioning the NHL’s concussion protocol.
He played the rest of the game.
“I thought we had a tremendous start to the game, thought we did a lot of great things,” Quenneville said.
Columbus came right down the pike with a shorthanded chance — the first of two shorties Cam Atkinson had a shot at in the first — but Bobrovsky was there.
Florida did make it 1-0 on Lammikko’s driving backhander which appeared to catch Korpisalo and the Columbus defense off guard.
The two both traded scoring chances the rest of the period with Columbus ending the period outshooting Florida 16-15.
Max Domi had a great look stopped by MacKenzie Weegar — although Bobrovsky was on his game in the opening period as Columbus had a dozen scoring chances and ended up with nothing.
A delay of game with 9.6 seconds left in the period gave Columbus 1:50 with the advantage to start the second.
Second period highlights
Florida got two power play chances in the period — one right after it killed off the Columbus chance to start the second.
The Panthers were able to cash in at 2:41 when Ekblad ripped off a one-timer that hit Hornqvist on its way through. That was good enough for Hornqvist’s 10th goal of the season.
After Columbus made it 2-1, the Panthers had a prime chance snuffed out as Noel Acciari picked off a turnover and was stoned by Korpisalo on the breakaway.
Mason Marchment and Forsling were also stopped on a couple of good looking chances.
Yet in the dying seconds of a pedestrian power play chance, the Panthers struck on a big slap shot from Tippett to make it 3-1.
Third period highlights
Most of the action happened on the Florida side of the ice as Columbus, a team coming off a disheartening 5-0 loss at Dallas on Saturday, came after the Panthers and forced turnovers and giveaways.
Quenneville was not, to put it lightly, pleased.
”We made the most unbelievable turnovers, giveaways, lack of playing the right way I have ever seen,” he said.
“That was hard to watch.”
Nick Foligno, Bobrovsky’s old captain and friend, misfired on a wide-open 2-on-1 charge 3:28 into the period or Columbus would have cut its deficit earlier than it actually did.
Columbus got its 11th shot of the period at 11:38 when Werenski’s shot went off Bjorkstrand in front of Bobrovsky’s skate and in to make it 3-2.
The Jackets got a late penalty and pulled Korpisalo for the 6-on-4 power play.
Noel Acciari had a bead on the empty net clear but couldn’t get it through traffic.
Finally, with 23 seconds left, Verhaeghe put the night on ice with the shot into the vacated net.
Up Next: Panthers at Blue Jackets
When: Thursday, 7
Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus