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Florida Panthers Game 1 Starter? Bet on Sergei Bobrovsky

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Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky protects his net during the second period of a game against the New York Islanders on April 19 in Elmont, N.Y. — AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

The Florida Panthers do not know who they will be facing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs nor when Game 1 will be.

It does look like they know who their starting goalie will be: Sergei Bobrovsky.

In what may have been his final start of the regular season Tuesday in Boston, Bobrovsky gave the Panthers another solid performance, stopping 34 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Bruins.

Bobrovsky gave up three goals — two off defensive breakdowns and another off a rebound — as the Bruins padded their score with an empty net goal with 3:05 remaining.

Coach Andrew Brunette has not named a starter for the postseason yet, but the Panthers have been leaning on Bobrovsky as their starter for much of the season.

He is the guy who has been there before, and is the one making the big bucks.

The Panthers signed Bobrovsky to the then-largest contract in franchise history just for these types of moments.

If you’re betting on who starts Game 1, put your money on Bobrovsky.

“I thought he was dialed in right from the start,” Brunette said of Bobrovsky’s game Tuesday night. “We were not very good in front of him especially early in the first. He kept us in the game. He kept it a one-goal game and we didn’t generate much. Give credit to them; they were the more desperate team.”

Said Bobrovsky: “It has been one shot at a time, one moment at a time and that’s it. That has been my focus all year: one moment at a time, one practice, one sequence.”

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It appears Florida will be playing either Pittsburgh or Washington in the first round, two teams Bobrovsky has a postseason past against during his time with Columbus.

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The Penguins knocked Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets out of the first round in both 2016 and 2017 — going on to win the Stanley Cup both times.

Washington rallied from a 0-2 hole in 2018 to beat the Jackets in 6 en route to that franchise’s lone Cup championship.

These are different times, however. The Panthers are not the Blue Jackets and, truthfully, the Penguins and Capitals are not those teams from the not-so-distant past.

Bobrovsky, 33, has had a solid year (39-7-3, .913/2.67) backstopping the free-wheeling Panthers team, one that stresses it knows it has to tighten up a little defensively when the playoffs start.

Getting Aaron Ekblad back (he practiced with the team again Wednesday in Boston) will certainly help that effort.

”He’s on the ice, there hasn’t been any setback,” Brunette said of Ekblad. “Hopefully at some point in the first round, we’ll be able to see him. It is such a hard schedule right now, it would be nice to see him get some practices in. We’ll see where he’s at.”

As for Florida’s other goalie, Spencer Knight got a baptism by fire in the playoffs last spring as a 20-year-old months out of Boston College.

Knight was not supposed to see any time in the opening round against Tampa Bay, but the unconvincing play of both Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger in the first four games of that series led Joel Quenneville to call on the highly-touted rook.

In Game 5, Knight extended Florida’s season, stopping 35 of 46 shots as the Panthers beat the Lightning 4-1.

Tampa Bay won Game 6 by beating Knight and the Panthers at Amalie Arena 4-0.

Bobrovsky has 41 games of playoff experience although his numbers are much worse in the postseason than they are in the playoffs. In postseasons with Philadelphia, Columbus and Florida, Bobrovsky is 13-23 and .899/3.44.

Again, he has a different team in front of him this time around.

Florida can score goals in all sorts of different ways, something the Blue Jackets were not able to do.

Knight will get the start for Florida tonight in Ottawa with Brunette noncommittal for Friday’s starter in the final game of the regular season at Montreal.

Jonas Johansson could get that start — he has only played one game since being claimed off waivers from Colorado in December — or the Panthers could go back with Knight or Bobrovsky.

It sounds like Florida would like to know whether Friday’s game means anything or not.

The Panthers currently have a two-point lead on Colorado for the Presidents’ Trophy which gives the winner home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Both Florida and Colorado have two games left.

Due to the Avalanche holding the tiebreaker of regulation wins, Florida needs to finish a point higher than the Avs.

A win by Florida on Thursday and a loss of any kind by the Avs in their game against Nashville would clinch it for the Panthers.

“We will see where we are, reassess after (Thursday) night,’’ Brunette said when asked about Johansson. “We’ll see the importance of the last game, where all the chips fall. We’ll make a decision then.”

Florida could also call up goalie Christopher Gibson from AHL Charlotte for Friday’s game. Gibson was signed as the team’s No. 3 goalie during the offseason but his injury earlier this season led the Panthers to bringing in Johansson.

Gibson, who won a championship with the Lightning last summer, was not one of the three Charlotte players recalled by the Panthers on Wednesday. Florida has one AHL recall remaining until the end of the Checkers’ season.

— As far as who Florida will play, right now it would be Washington. But the Capitals are one point back of Pittsburgh with two games remaining. The Penguins have one game left.

The Capitals visit the Islanders on Thursday and the Rangers on Friday; the Penguins play host to the Blue Jackets on Friday.

PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT OTTAWA SENATORS

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