TAMPA — Sergei Bobrovsky had nine of the biggest saves of his Florida Panthers career on Thursday night.
After not starting the past two playoff games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bobrovsky was called out of the bullpen in Game 3. This was not a save situation but a desperate one.
Chris Driedger, who has meant so much to the Panthers over the past two seasons, happened to be part of a Tampa Bay resurgence in the second period.
Florida led the Lightning 2-0 after the first period, but the Lightning put on an all-our assault in the second and scored five times on 12 shots on goal.
As the Panthers trudged to the locker room at Amalie Arena down 5-3, it did not take a genius to figure out Bobrovsky was taking over in the third.
And take over he did.
Bobrovsky, again, only had to make nine saves on Thursday but they not only helped stop the bleeding but kept things right where they were. The Panthers scored twice in the third and got another in overtime to beat the Lightning 6-5.
“He shut the door and allowed us the opportunity to come back,’’ said Ryan Lomberg, he of the game-winning goal in overtime. “Proud of him and proud of the boys for doing that.”
When Bobrovsky came out and took his spot in net, the Panthers were 20 minutes away from being down 0-3 in this best-of-7 series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Tampa Bay leads 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.
Although Joel Quenneville would not come right out and say it, he said enough.
Bet everything you have stuffed in your mattress that Bobrovsky will be in net.
“I’m really proud of the guys,’’ Bobrovsky said. “We were up, we were down 5-3 after that second period, and we regrouped to get the W. It’s a big win for us but it’s only one game. We enjoy tonight and get ready for the next one.”
Bobrovsky got the start in the opener of this series and gave up five goals on 40 shots in Florida’s 5-4 loss.
The Panthers gave the Game 2 to Driedger who was fine in a 2-1 loss on Tuesday night. The Lightning scored twice in the first period and then clamped down. Two goals allowed is usually plenty for the Florida offense but it was not this time.
There was word that the Panthers were leaning toward going back to Bobrovsky for Game 3 with the road atmosphere one of the worries. Driedger, for as good as he has been the past two seasons, has never really faced the pressure of a playoff game on enemy ice before.
Thursday, in the second period, he got the full experience.
Bobrovsky, of course, has been here before. He has had mixed success in the playoffs, but he has never backstopped a team with the talent this Florida team has.
He gave up five goals on Sunday night and the Panthers still were right there.
Thursday night, he skated out with an air about him. Bobrovsky looked serious and he looked locked in.
Again, the Lightning did not really throw much his way, but what it did was kicked aside.
The Panthers even finally killed off a power play with Bobrovsky in the cage.
“Throughout the season, this team has a tremendous ability to come back,’’ Bobrovsky said. “It doesn’t matter how much of a deficit we have. It was one of those games where we get together and one at a time, we pulled a W. It’s a big win for us, we’re going to enjoy tonight and get ready to work on Saturday.”
There was a concern that once Quenneville pulled Bobrovsky, it might be tough to have to call on him once again.
Perhaps, then, that Thursday was a good time to do it. Of course no team wants to be down 5-3 to the defending champs going into the third, but Bobrovsky certainly did not have time to overthink things.
You’re going in and we need you right now.
“I stayed focused, I do my preparation as I play,’’ Bobrovsky said. “During the game, I stay focused and I stay ready. It’s playoff hockey, anything could happen you just have to be ready for the guys. You have to make sure you do your best. If you get the chance to get in, do your job.”
— The NHL announced that Game 5 will start at 8 p.m. on Monday night with CNBC again being the national broadcast’s home.
PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
GAME 4: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING
TAMPA BAY LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES 2-1
- When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
- Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE
- Regular season series: Florida won 5-2-1
- The series so far — Sunday Game 1: Tampa Bay 5, Florida 4; Tuesday Game 2: Tampa Bay 3, Florida 1; Thursday Game 3: Florida 6, Tampa Bay 5 (OT).
- TV: CNBC, BS-FLA
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM