Sergei Bobrovsky has been one of the dominant regular-season goaltenders of the last decade. He’s the only active netminder to win the Vezina Trophy twice, too. Unfortunately for him and the teams he’s played for, success hasn’t followed him into the playoffs.
Bobrovsky has been to the postseason three times as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. His team failed to advance to the second round all three times and his individual numbers have been pretty mediocre. The difference between his numbers in the regular season and in the playoffs are staggering.
In 2016-17, he had a 2.06 goals-against-average and a .931 save percentage during the regular season. He came away with his second Vezina Trophy that year. In the playoffs, he posted a 3.88 goals-against-average and a .882 save percentage over five games.
Last season, he posted a 2.42 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage in 65 games. In the postseason, the Blue Jackets were able to build up a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals, but they were eventually bounced from the postseason when they lost four games in a row. Bobrovsky had a 3.18 goals-against-average and a .900 save percentage in the series. Not good enough. Again.
This season has been an interesting one for the Russian netminder. By his standards, it wasn’t a banner year. There were ups, there were downs, there was a lot of talk about him being an unrestricted free agent at the of the season, but in the end he was able to help get his team into the playoffs.
“I’m not going to talk about any trophies, not at this time of the year,” head coach John Tortorella said, per the Tampa Times. “But I’ll tell you the guy we have, he is one hell of a goalie. I can’t speak on Vasy, I’m not with him every day.
“I know the guy we have, the way he prepares, the way he goes about his business before he steps on the it, it is second to none. I’ve had (Dominik) Hasek, I’ve had Hendrik Lundqvist, I’ve had some really good goalies that I’ve been fortunate enough to be around and watch how they prepare. And there’s no one who prepares better than our guy.”
The Jackets were underdogs against the Penguins and Capitals in previous years, but the challenge that awaits them this year might be the most difficult of all. Columbus has a good team, but they’re not nearly as deep as the Tampa Bay Lightning team they’re going to be facing. The Bolts won 62 games this year and they finished 21 points ahead of any other team in the league. Beating Tampa won’t be easy.
If the Jackets are going to shock the hockey world, they’ll need the 30-year-old to take his game to another level. Not only will he have to be better than Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, he’ll have to be better than Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and several others.
In any other circumstance, a number eight seed losing to the top seed wouldn’t be an issue. But this might just be the final time we see Bobrovsky in a Blue Jackets uniform. Does he want to go out with a whimper? Probably not.
Columbus is a well balanced team, but in order to sneak by Tampa they’ll need their franchise player to elevate his game to a level he’s probably never reached before.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.