Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice said that there are times in a playoff series when your goalie has to steal a game or two. Sergei Bobrovsky better watch out, or the local police are going to charge him with grand larceny before he can fly home with his teammates.
Bobrovsky did it again on Thursday night, making 34 saves and giving his Panthers a chance to win against the host Maple Leafs.
And, win they did. Florida got two quick goals at the start of the second period from Sasha Barkov and Gus Forsling with Bobrovsky doing the rest in a 3-2 win in Game 2.
The victory gives the Panthers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series which now heads south for two games in Sunrise.
Florida has not had a 2-0 series lead in a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck backstopped the expansion Panthers to a pair of wins against the Bruins at Miami Arena in 1996.
“He played awesome,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “He has been driving it for us ever since he came back in for us. He deserves it, too. He has worked so hard and is the hardest worker I’ve seen — Barky is probably second.
“Bob grinds and just continues to work on his game and takes care of himself like no one I have seen. He deserves it. He has been a leader for us since he came back and we are very lucky to have him.”
The Maple Leafs came out flying against the Panthers and looked like a team desperate not to go down 2-0 in the series.
Bobrovsky gave up 2 goals on 6 shots in the opening 5:10 — but he then stopped the next 30 shots Toronto threw at the net.
He made stops on 1-on-1s, stopped shots from inside and outside. Of the 16 high-danger shots he faced, Bobrovsky made saves on 14 of them.
In two wins against the Leafs thus far, he has given up four goals on 72 shots faced (.944). According to expected-goals against, Bobrovsky probably should have given up around four goals in each of the past two games.
Instead, the high-flying Maple Leafs have a total of four goals.
“It was two good games,” Bobrovsky said afterward. “It was fun. Playoff hockey is fun. Again, I am just fortunate to be in this spot, to be playing hockey and playoff hockey. I want to thank God for the opportunity and the performance. I am humble but happy at the same time for the guys. They fought. (Josh Mahura) got hit in the face but came back. They are warriors and this is fun to be a part of.”
With the way Bobrovsky is playing, it is hard to believe he started the playoffs on the bench — much less went almost a month without hitting the ice.
When he got sick in Ottawa on March 27, he was forced to give up his spot to Alex Lyon for Florida’s game in Toronto two nights later.
We all know how that went, and, how things continued.
Lyon ended up holding off the Maple Leafs for a 3-2 win and ended up winning six straight games, ending the regular season 6-1-1 and helping the Panthers make it to the playoffs in the first place.
The Panthers rode their hot hand into Boston with Lyon playing well in three games before Bobrovsky came in at the end of Game 3 to get some work in.
Florida started Bobrovsky in Game 4 and things did not end up great as the Bruins scored three in the third en route to a 6-2 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The Panthers could have easily have gone back to Lyon for Game 5 in Boston, but Paul Maurice decided it should be Bobrovsky.
“The decision to play Sergei Bobrovsky was made right by Sergei Bobrovsky,” Maurice said afterward.
“I had an even call on both goaltenders in my mind. But I felt that the pressure needed to be on Sergei to play this game, he needed to carry that weight, and like Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov, the leaders carry the weight of your team. And he needed to carry that weight. He was brilliant on that ice, and that was all him.
“It wasn’t the coaches’ decision, it’s not the faith I showed in him, that was all Sergei Bobrovsky.”
Bobrovsky turned in a game to remember, stopping 44 shots in helping the Panthers keep their season alive for one more game.
Or so everyone thought.
Bobrovsky has now won his past five games — his longest winning streak of the season — as the Panthers ended up winning the final three against the Bruins and are now 2-0 against the Leafs.
“You need your goalie to win you a game every series and he did that tonight,” Maurice said on Thursday. “I don’t think it was easy for him at the beginning — certainly with the way we played in front of him in the first 10 minutes and it was challenging.
“But some nights behind the bench, you get a feel for your goaltender and say ‘man, he’s not getting beat again.’ And that’s what he gave our team.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) AT FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)
- When: Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: TBS
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Florida 4, @Toronto 2; Game 2: Florida 3, @Toronto 2; Game 3: Sunday at Florida, 6:30 (TBS); Game 4: Wednesday at Florida, 7 (ESPN); Game 5*:Friday, May 12 at Toronto (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 14 at Florida (TBA); Game 7*:May 16 at Toronto (TNT). (*) – If Necessary
- How They Got Here: Toronto d. Tampa Bay 4-2; Florida d. Boston 4-3
- Season Series (Toronto won 3-1): Maple Leafs 5, @Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); @Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, @Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29); Maple Leafs 2, @Panthers 1 OT (April 10)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting