Panthers Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky Isn't Slowing Down At Age 35. And The Stanley Cup Final Awaits

New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (20) shoots the puck past Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) for a goal during the second period of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday, May 30, 2024, in New York, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (20) shoots the puck past Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) for a goal during the second period of Game 5 in the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday, May 30, 2024, in New York, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Sergei Bobrovsky baffles his own teammates at times.

Florida's starting goaltender has his own schedule and regimen — slowing gliding across the entirety of the ice to begin his process of getting ready in the morning, an extremely strict diet and some moves in the weight room that the Panthers say are all his own.

“Sometimes he walks on a wooden stick, like on a pole,” Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe said, gesturing with his hands to try to describe the contraption without a whole lot of success. “It probably helps his balance, but none of us really get it.”

Nobody minds, either. What Bobrovsky is doing is working, especially at this time of year.

There was the spectacular save in Round 1 of the playoffs against Tampa Bay that they’re calling The Bobbery, one that will forever be part of Panthers lore. There’s the current run of allowing two goals or fewers in 10 of his last 11 games. There even was an assist on a goal that sparked a comeback victory over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final. And on Saturday night, he’ll be in net for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers — the second straight year in which Bobrovsky has backstopped a team to a title shot.

“Bob has been Bob for the last 10 years,” Panthers forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. “He’s unbelievable.”

About three months shy of turning 36, Bobrovsky could become the third-oldest goalie in more than 50 years to be the starting netminder for a team that wins the Stanley Cup. Dominik Hasek was 37 years and about 4 months when he led Detroit to the 2002 title; Tim Thomas was 37 years and about 2 months when he led Boston to the 2011 title.

It is a small club of goalies over 35 who have the numbers that Bobrovsky has so far in these playoffs: 12 wins, .908 save percentage, 2.20 goals-against average. The other names on that list over the last 50 years — Thomas, Hasek, Patrick Roy, Chris Osgood and Martin Brodeur.

All of them have hoisted the Stanley Cup. Bobrovsky hasn’t. Yet.

“He’s the hardest-working guy I’ve ever seen,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said after the East final, as fellow forward Matthew Tkachuk sat to his right and nodded. “You just know, when a guy works that hard, he’s also like super calm. Every single day at practice, he’s having fun. Morning skate, he’s having fun. Warmups, all that kind of stuff, you see him being in the zone, you just know he’s going to be on top of his game. He’s been unbelievable.

“He’s 35 — it’s really hard to believe. He’s been amazing and it’s fun to watch from this close.”

For the Panthers to say that Bobrovsky is the hardest worker, that’s high praise. Very high praise.

Florida prides itself on work ethic; the Panthers make no effort to hide that training camps under coach Paul Maurice have been designed to push players to their limits and beyond, and in-season, guys will even compete against one another on the stationary bikes postgame — getting one more full sweat in after playing for three periods.

“With him, it’s an everyday thing,” Tkachuk said. “His off days, his recovery days, they’re all tailored to what he’s going to do in the net. He’s so good at keeping a very simple focus. And if anybody on our team is the best at being even keeled, it’s him. So, we’re very lucky to have that. That’s a very, very important trait, probably the No. 1 most important trait.”

Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s best goalie; he’s a finalist for the award this year as well and could become the 13th player to capture it on three occasions. It’s been well-chronicled that the $70 million, seven-year deal he got from the Panthers in 2019 didn’t always seem like great value for Florida; it sure seems like a bargain now.

The math has been simple in these playoffs. When Bobrovsky gives up three goals or fewer, Florida is 12-2. When he allows four goals or more, Florida is 0-3. It’s a similar one-sided breakdown for his career against the high-octane Oilers led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl; he’s 10-1 when allowing three goals or fewer, 1-5 otherwise.

“The job is not done,” Bobrovsky said of making the Cup final again, following last year’s five-game defeat at the hands of Vegas. “We made just a step. It’s a good challenge in front of us, and we’re excited for it.”

Goalies are quirky. They have frozen 6-ounce vulcanized rubber disks shot at them at around 80 mph (129 kph) or more for a living. It’s not a normal job.

Bobrovsky has his certain trademarks; he’ll hardly ever talk about himself, he won’t get a haircut during the season and he doesn’t mind if teammates break an unwritten hockey rule of sorts by shooting pucks up high at him during practices and warmups.

“That’s kind of the beautiful thing about Bob,” Verhaeghe said. “Every day, he’s not thinking about if he’s a superstar or he’s not thinking about what everyone else is thinking about him. He’s just going out to practice daily, kind of just doing his own thing. And he wants to be a great goalie. He wants to be the best in the world. He comes every day with that mindset, and it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks of him.”


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