On the day Sergei Bobrovsky officially signed with the Florida Panthers in 2019, he texted a statement to the team which was released to the media.
“I am very excited to join the Panthers organization,” Bobrovsky wrote. “It’s a big day for me and my family. I am looking forward to performing for Panthers fans! I want to thank owner Vincent Viola, President Matt Caldwell, GM Dale Tallon and Coach Q for trusting me and giving me an opportunity to win the Cup with them in South Florida.
“I can’t wait to put a Panthers uniform on and start winning!”
In the four seasons since, there have been wins and losses for Bobrovsky and the Panthers but nothing close to having an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
Until now, that is.
For the first time in his career, Bobrovsky has advanced past the second round of the playoffs as he has led the Panthers to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1996.
After being introduced as a new member of the Panthers, Bobrovsky reflected on what was coming next.
He wanted to prove himself, prove the Panthers made the right move by signing him to what, at the time, was the richest contract (seven years, $70 million) in franchise history.
“I am excited about this opportunity because I have been working my whole life for this,’’ Bobrovsky said on July 2, 2019. “I look forward to keep proving to the people who put their trust and faith in me that they were right to do so.’’
It has taken some time, but things are paying off now.
Bobrovsky is closer to the Cup than he has ever been before, the Panthers halfway through their quest to hockey’s Holy Grail.
The road may only get tougher from here.
It is not like it has been an easy journey for the Panthers or Bobrovsky thus far.
“I don’t like to analyze or look back,’’ Bobrovsky said after a spectacular win in Game 5 on Friday night. “I am in the moment with the guys. It is a privilege to go shoulder-to-shoulder with these guys and go through the overtimes and the adversities and all of that. It is also a privilege to enjoy this with these guys.”
Bobrovsky, one may remember, was not even Florida’s starting goalie in these playoffs until Game 4 of the opening round against Boston.
His first start did not go the way he or the Panthers hoped it would as Boston scored five on him in Game 4 in Sunrise and took a 3-1 series lead.
Instead of going back to Alex Lyon, coach Paul Maurice kept Bobrovsky in net for Game 5 in Boston.
One more loss and the Panthers were in for a long offseason.
Bobrovsky made 47 saves as the Panthers won that game in overtime on a goal from Matthew Tkachuk.
He then led the Panthers to wins in the next two games to knock out the top-seeded Bruins and has gone 7-1 in the playoffs since that Game 4 loss.
“He has always been a great pro,” Maurice said. “I think the story of Sergei Bobrovsky is how he goes into Game 5 (against Boston). You need to fully appreciate the pressure he was under in that game. Alex Lyon has saved our season if you will, has been so good for us. But the weight of that game needed to be carried by him. And he did it, right?
“That was an unbelievable performance in the context of that. Then you get a glimpse of the man at his best, at his finest. What you’re seeing is a confident Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s the reason we’re winning, it’s not ‘you’re goaltending is not as good as the other team.’ … Sergei has come in and every night has been the best goalie.”
To say Bobrovsky has been good for the Panthers this postseason would be massively underselling what he has been doing.
In the opening round against Tampa Bay, the Maple Leafs scored 23 goals in six games against Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Against Bobrovsky, the Maple Leafs got 10 — two in each of the five games which ended up being played.
He is the first Florida goalie to win six consecutive playoff games and his five straight road wins is also a record and one that remains active.
The 50 saves in a clinching game is a team record and most in a postseason win. John Vanbiesbrouck made 55 in Florida’s loss to Colorado in Game 4 of the 1996 Cup Final.
In Game 5 on Friday night, he made 50 saves, including nine in overtime, to help the Panthers move on to the ECF against the Hurricanes.
“It was a fun game, definitely, the fans are great here and it was special to play in the capital of hockey and it feels more special to get the win and move on,” Bobrovsky said. “This is definitely a big moment, but you don’t think about that. You stay in the moment, stay focused and don’t think about what’s happened or what is going to happen.”
In Game 5, Bobrovsky made 2.45 goals-saved above expected and had a total of 9.32 in the series against the Leafs.
That is a lot of expected goals which were not scored by Toronto’s all-out assault on the Panthers.
If not for Bobrovsky, the Panthers may have been playing Sunday against the Leafs in Game 6.
Or already on summer vacation.
“Bob was unreal and gave us a chance to win those games,” Sasha Barkov said.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
PANTHERS (WC2) AT CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1)
- When: TBA
- Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
- TV/Radio: TBA
- Series Schedule: TBA
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): Florida 3, Carolina 2 (Nov.9); Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.