SUNRISE — Alex Lyon prides himself on keeping himself ready for anything and that has shown in his first season with the Florida Panthers.
After spending the majority of the season as their AHL starter, Lyon stepped up to play an NHL starter’s role when Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight were dealing with injuries in January and helped them earn points in four out of the six games he started.
With Knight away from the team, Lyon is back with the Panthers to back up Bobrovsky as they embark on a playoff push.
“At this point in my career, I just have to do whatever I can to help the team and the organization,” Lyon said.
”I’m up here, I’m down there, I just try to put my best foot forward. In terms of being up here, it’s exciting and being in the NHL is pretty sweet.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and relish the experience.”
The 30-year-old netminder played just 25 NHL games before he played his first game with Florida.
In his six games, Lyon went 3-2-1 with a .892/3.89.
It was not pretty at times but the team rallied around him and he did enough to prove he was good enough to get his number called if the team needs him.
“The ability to play in the NHL is the key to furthering my career and extending contracts for myself, so it felt good,” Lyon said.
“But I have confidence that I can play in this league and be a successful NHL player so I’m just trying to maintain that mentality and stay ready whenever my number is called.”
Lyon left an impression on the team in the final game before the All-Star break when he stopped 37 of 40 shots against the Boston Bruins — a team on track to have the best season in NHL history — in a 4-3 overtime thriller that set off the team’s first three-game winning streak of the season.
Panthers head coach Paul Maurice has reminded himself of that and knows Lyon would be ready if and when he is needed.
Although with the way Bobrovsky has been playing, there is some uncertainty with when that may be.
“He beat Boston,” Maurice said.
”He knows that, the team knows that. I’ve got a plan, as I’ve said, you’ve got a plan until somebody punches you in the face. I’ve got games that I scheduled for him to play on. We don’t announce that to the goalies before, we just go game by game but we do have a plan to get him back in.”
Lyon is aware of the fact that he won’t get into many games — Bobrovsky starting the team’s most recent back-to-back against Chicago and Winnipeg made sure of it, but he is ready for whatever is ahead.
“Backing up Bob is simple,” Lyon said.
”I’m not going to name names, but you get into situations where you don’t know on a daily basis whether you are going to be going in or not.
”Whether it is based on injury or play, you get stuck in tough situations like that. I haven’t experienced that in Florida and I don’t want jinx that but it is difficult sometimes when your role changes based on your teammates. When Bob goes in, he’s obviously a Vezina winner, so his resume speaks for itself.”
By the time Lyon entered the game in Montreal on Jan. 19 in relief of Bobrovsky two minutes in he had enough experience to know what to do in that situation.
Lyon has had his lows — like getting pulled 22:35 into his NHL debut in the old Philly-Pittsburgh rivalry game — and his highs, like his outing against Boston, and he has learned from all of them to become better in spot-start situations.
“It comes from when you get in that situation the first time and you screw it up,” Lyon said.
”Ultimately, I’ve just been through enough situations and I’ve made my career as a number three. So the ability to stay calm in a bad situation like ‘hey, you’re getting on a plane and you’re playing tomorrow night,’ that’s where I’ve made my money.”
With the Panthers in the heat of a playoff race, they need to earn as many points as they can and he has proven to be able to pick them up when the team in front of him plays well.
He has a 10-9-4 record with a .894/3.89 over the course of his career.
“That’s why it’s valuable to have a bit of a veteran guy who has been a backup in his life,” Maurice said.
”He’s run days where he hasn’t played and is still able to go back and that’s an acquired skill. It’s difficult to do that as a young man when you’ve never dealt with that to get to the NHL.
“You’re a No. 1 goaltender in whatever league you played and there is a learning curve to becoming a back-up goaltender to be able to stay focused in practice and relax on your off days but be ready in games that you don’t think you’re going into and then ‘boom!’, you’re into a very tight game but also can sit long stretches and come in and be good.”
Lyon has spent a lot of time watching Bobrovsky since he was called up on Feb. 22 and has taken a lot from the man who has gone 9-4-1 with a .920/2.43 in 14 games since the last game he missed before the All-Star break.
But at the same time, he wants to keep being himself because he knows the role he has taken on is completely different.
“I think I try to learn from him, but at the same time, I have also developed my own things,” Lyon said.
”The unique thing about goalies — it’s like watching NFL quarterbacks — is that everybody has their own unique way to do it. If you try to be somebody that you’re not, it generally works against you. I try to take bits and pieces from all of the things Bob does and just integrate them into what Alex Lyon is and what he is about.”
And what Lyon is all about is being ready for the next time his name is called and being able to go in there and hep them win.
”I think a couple of things that hold true for all goalies is the ability to be present in the moment and the ability to be calm in very adverse situations,” he said.
”It’s honestly nerve-wracking when guys are taking one-timers on you. That hurts. So the ability to stay calm through all of that, it’s a very physical, mental and emotional experience. It takes a lot.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- This season (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 7, Canadiens 2 (Dec. 29); Panthers 6, Canadiens 2 (Jan. 19)
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: New Jersey Devils at Florida, Saturday, 5 p.m.