SUNRISE — When the Florida Panthers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, Sergei Bobrovsky knew the pressure was on.
His performance in the series was less than stellar.
Bobrovsky went 1-2-0 against the Lightning, had a .841 save percentage and 5.33 GAA — but most telling was that for the final two games of the series, he was not even dressed as the backup.
This came after two inconsistent seasons with the Panthers in which the two-time Vezina Trophy winner had a .902/3.10.
“Even with those two years, I’ve been honest with the game the whole time,” Bobrovsky said. “I’ve been working hard, I’ve been doing the things I’m supposed to do, I’ve been a pro. I came every morning for practice and I did my best and I worked hard, but sometimes you don’t have that result that you want.”
Coming into this season, many felt it was only a matter of time before Spencer Knight took over as the starter.
That did not happen, and a new mental space may have been beneficial.
In October, just before the season started, Bobrovsky became a father for the first time. He certainly looks at things differently now.
“It’s all of the little things,” Bobrovsky said. “In the hockey game, there’s a small margin of difference, it’s a game of inches, and the same with life overall. All of those little steps and little inches either build you up or they destroy you little by little.
“The birth of my daughter helped a lot. You kind of look at life with a different perspective and you appreciate the different things and you become a deeper human.”
Bobrovsky started the season on a tear, making sure anyone who thought he was washed up and ready to be replaced took a second look.
He backstopped Florida to an 8-0 record to start the season, going 6-0-0 with a .944/1.88.
“When you have success, you still have to stay humble and work hard because you never know how the outside circumstances are going to play out,’’ Bobrovsky said.
“That’s why it’s important for me to focus on one step at a time and be in the moment and do the things to develop myself and be the best version of myself.”
He continued to shoulder the majority of the workload throughout the season.
Bobrovsky finished the season 39-7-3 with a .913/2.67 and was instrumental in helping the Panthers win the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
It was a big bounceback year for Bobrovsky.
“The last two years were not easy, but there were a lot of different circumstances around me,” Bobrovsky said.
“It wasn’t like I was bad or anything, it was just not the result I wanted and there’s a lot of things happening. This season was really big for me and I thought I overcame huge deficits in the physical and mental standpoint.”
He carried that momentum with him and played his best hockey of the season during the playoffs.
During the first round, Bobrovsky came up big when the Panthers needed him most, making big save after big save to help Florida to its first playoff series victory since 1996 and finishing the first round with a 4-2-0 record and .906/2.79.
“He played great all playoffs,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said. “I thought he was a factor in all those games. He kept us in some games where we were a bit sluggish in the Washington series and he kept us in games here, so obviously he’s a big part of that first series win for us, too.”
Bobrovsky stayed hot during the second round, making 92 percent of his saves against a Lightning team he has struggled mightily against since joining the Panthers.
The problem in the second round was not Bobrovsky — but an offense that grew cold.
Florida only scored three goals in a four-game series sweep against its cross-state rival.
After entering the postseason with lofty expectations, the Panthers found themselves right back where they were last season: The wrong side of the handshake line at Amalie Arena.
Still, Bobrovsky did not dwell on that on the team’s final day on Wednesday.
“Your pride is sore, it’s not easy,” Bobrovsky said. “Losing is tough, but there are a lot of positive things you can take from this season. As a team, as an organization, we made a step forward towards our goal, and personally, I had so many good things to be happy about.”
While he turns 34 at the outset of training camp, Bobrovsky is still looking to improve — that has always been his mindset.
With four more years left on his seven-year, $70 million contract, Florida is hoping that they can get more of that Vezina-quality goaltending out of him.
“Everything on my mind is on one moment at a time, one day at a time, and I keep building,” Bobrovsky said.
“I had a really good season, I performed well. I want to build on it, get stronger, get better focus on the present, and keep on developing myself. I still see lots of potential in myself and I don’t see limits.”