The Florida Panthers have spent the first four games of their First Round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning rotating between Sergei Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger in goal.
No matter the choice, it has not mattered on the scoreboard.
Bobrovsky continued the goalie carousel with a Game 4 start on Saturday afternoon and was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots in a 6-2 loss, pushing the Panthers to the brink of elimination. They will now need to win three games in a row, starting with Game 5 on Monday (8 p.m. ET, CNBC), to advance to the Second Round.
If they are going to succeed in that quest they are going to have to figure out a way to stop a Tampa Bay offense that has been feasting in this series. Neither goalie has been able to slow them down to this point.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
A quick recap of how this revolving door has been working so far:
- Bobrovsky got the Game 1 start and allowed five goals on 40 shots in a 5-4 loss.
- Coach Joel Quenneville responded by turning to Driedger (the more productive goalie during the regular season) in Game 2, and he played well stopping 26 out of 28 shots in a 3-1 loss.
- Things did not go as well in Game 3 where Drieder was benched after allowing five goals on 22 shots. Bobrovsky stopped all nine shots he faced in relief as the Panthers were able to rally for a 6-5 overtime win, earning him another start in Game 4 on Saturday.
- The roles were flipped on Saturday as Bobrovsky was replaced by Driedger after surrendering four goals on his first 14 shots.
On one hand, it is difficult to put all of the blame on just the two goalies. Take Saturday’s game for example. It started with a blown defensive assignment in the neutral zone that gave Anthony Cirelli a clean breakaway from the red line in, while the Lightning also scored multiple goals on deflections. The defensive play has not been great, while the Lightning power play with the postseason returns of Nikita Kucherov (four more points on Saturday) and Steven Stamkos has been ridiculously good, scoring on seven of its 14 opportunities in this series.
But when you are paying a goalie $10 million a year over seven years like the Panthers are with Bobrovsky you are doing so with the expectation that he is going to make a lot of difficult saves. Maybe saves he should not be reasonably expected or should not be asked to make. Otherwise, why pay him that much money?
Especially when the big money goalie at the other end of the ice, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, was a huge difference-maker on Saturday by turning aside 39 of 41 shots and keeping the Lightning in the game during a slow start in the first period.
All of this leaves Quenneville and the Panthers with a dilemma for Game 5 and who they start in goal. Neither Bobrovsky or Driedger have played well, and neither is getting much support in front of them defensively. The wild card option is turning to rookie Spencer Knight, but that seems like it would be a desperate act when you have no other card to play.
The only negative for Tampa Bay on Saturday is Kucherov and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev were both shaken up in the third period. Kucherov when he was slashed away from the play by Florida’s Anthony Duclair, and Sergachev when he was hit hard into the boards by Patric Hornqvist.
PANTHERS VS. LIGHTNING (TB leads 3-1) – series livestream link
Game 1: Lightning 5, Panthers 4
Game 2: Lightning 3, Panthers 1
Game 3: Panthers 6, Lightning 5 (OT)
Saturday, May 22: Lightning 6, Panthers 2
Monday, May 24: Lightning at Panthers, 8 p.m. ET (CNBC)
*Wednesday, May 26: Panthers at Lightning TBD
*Friday, May 28: Lightning at Panthers TBD
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.