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Star goaltender Bobrovsky in top form for Panthers


EDMONTON — Sergei Bobrovsky’s dressing-room stall is a shrine. A gold crucifix hangs from a chain. Next to it is a royal blue Orthodox prayer tassel.

And the Florida goaltender's play has been nothing short of divine in the Stanley Cup final. The Russian has clearly been the star of this series, stopping 82 of 86 shots over the course of three straight wins.

Bobrovsky is the wall that has stopped the Oilers’ “Cup or bust” dream in its tracks.

On Thursday night, he made a number of spectacular saves in the Panthers' 4-3 win at Rogers Place.

With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second period, he denied Zach Hyman - the leading goal-scorer in the NHL playoffs - on a partial break, then recovered to deny Connor McDavid’s attempt to bang in the rebound.

Just minutes later, the Panthers scored three quick goals to quiet the Edmonton fans. Late in the game, while preserving a one-goal lead, he spread his pads wide to rob Ryan McLeod.

And, he’s having fun.

“They are a very skilful offensive team,” Bobrovsky said of the Oilers. “They're smart guys and they're going to make plays. You just focus on each and every one and it's a fun challenge.”

Bobrovsky comes far out of the crease to challenge shooters. He spreads his pads low, but leans his upper body forward, cutting off the shooter’s ability to get the puck over either of his shoulders.

His core strength and balance are the stuff of a gymnast.

“You have that faith in him, in the net,” said Panthers coach Paul Maurice. “If something breaks loose, and it’s going to - no matter how hard you play defensively, no matter how good your structure is - those guys are getting looks. And that’s his role.”

Before the third period of Game 3, only two Oilers — Mattias Ekholm and Warren Foegele – had beaten him in the series.

Bobrovsky gave up goals to Philip Broberg and Ryan McLeod in the final period of the Game 3 win, but held off the Oilers' late push.

"They're a very skilful team and they're going to make plays and it doesn't matter what the score (is), they're going to come at you,” he said. “You just stay focused and sharp.”

The Oilers have outshot the Panthers in two of the three games, but it hasn’t mattered. And none of the Oilers’ big guns — Hyman, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — have found the back of the net against Bobrovsky.

“For chances, in two out of the three games, we’re at or above our expected goals for, how many chances we’re creating,” said Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch.

“In Games 1 and 3, we’re playing well enough to score goals. We’re putting ourselves into good enough positions to score goals.”

He said his team is frustrated, but isn’t going to quit. The Oilers are on the verge of being swept in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1983, when the Islanders won their fourth championship in a row against an Edmonton team led by a young Wayne Gretzky.

“He’s had a lot of big saves, especially in the finals,” said forward Aleksander Barkov, who'll likely be Bobrovsky’s main rival for the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Panthers can finish the job. “I know that they have a really good team, they’re going to have their chances, no matter how good we play in the defensive zone. They create a lot, they’re very gifted offensively.

“Bob has been dialed in. When you see how much work he puts in every single day, in practice and in the games, you’re just happy to see him perform like that.”

The Panthers can complete a sweep with a win in Game 4 on Saturday night. They could become the second team from the Sunshine State to skate with the Stanley Cup around Rogers Place ice in a span of four years.

In 2020, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup in the COVID bubble.

But Bobrovsky isn’t going to let himself get carried away.

"We keep staying with the moment,” he said. “Obviously, (the Game 3 win) is a great move for us, and we enjoy it tonight and get ready for the next one."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2024.