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Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Bobrovsky got his start in the NHL thanks to current Rangers coach Laviolette

By Vaseline May31,2024
Bobrovsky got his start in the NHL thanks to current Rangers coach Laviolette

Sergei Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, voted the NHL’s best goaltender, and helped the Florida Panthers reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season.

He is the all-time winningest goaltender among Russian-born players with 396, and he is four wins away from being the 14th NHL goaltender with 400.

About the only thing the 35-year-old hasn’t won in his fourteen seasons is the Stanley Cup, and to get there he has to go through the person who gave him his start in the NHL, New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette. in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Panthers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, TVAS, CBC).

Long before he became one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, Bobrovsky was a 22-year-old rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-2011, hoping to play for Laviolette, and then in his second season as Flyers coach.

Philadelphia had signed undrafted Bobrovsky on May 6, 2010, a move that was overshadowed the next day by the start of the Flyers’ historic comeback from trailing 3–0 against the Boston Bruins to win the Eastern Conference Semifinals in seven games.

The unknown goaltender arrived in Philadelphia ahead of training camp in 2010, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact.

“I first met him skating with (goalie coach) Jeff Reese in probably the second half of August,” said Brian Boucher, then a Flyers goaltender and now a hockey analyst for TNT and the Flyers. “I remember after about twenty minutes I turned to Jeff Reese and said, ‘Oh, I’m in trouble.’

“My first impression was that this kid was a stallion and I had never seen anyone move like that and have the flexibility and agility, all those good things. Maybe the only thing he was missing, and still missing, is probably that great size ( He’s not as big as (Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei) Vasilevskiy (6-4, 220), but as far as sheer athleticism and skating and agility, it was the best I’ve ever been on the ice with.”

Philadelphia general manager Daniel Brière, a forward on the Flyers team, also said he had no idea who Bobrovsky was prior to training camp, but learned pretty quickly.

“I remember him coming out of nowhere, but still being good,” Briere said. ‘We didn’t know who he was. I remember thinking how quickly this boy got down.”

Bobrovsky was expected to begin his time in North America in the American Hockey League, but an injury to Michael Leighton opened up an NHL spot and Bobrovsky started the season alongside Boucher.

“He was young, he came in and he was a great goaltender,” Laviolette said. “He constantly worked on his game. A tireless worker, a really good person.”

Laviolette was so impressed that he gave Bobrovsky the opening night pick, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the first game ever played at PPG Paints Arena.

Most coaches will follow their goalie coach when it comes to playing time, especially in a rotation like Philadelphia planned with Boucher and Bobrovsky. But Reese said Laviolette was the main motivation for starting Bobrovsky in the opener.

“I have to give Pete credit,” said Reese, now the goaltending coach of the Dallas Stars. “He recognized… clearly that he came from the camp (Bobrovsky) and then the fact that, because of his maturity, he thought he could handle it. And look what happened. He had no problems. I must say that it Pete was for that first game.

“I don’t think anyone saw that coming. But ‘Lavi’ at the time just liked the way ‘Bob’ went about his business, very professional, very mature for a young age.”

Bobrovsky made 29 saves in Philadelphia’s 3-2 victory.

“I think he was really good in camp and deserved a look,” Briere said. “We didn’t know how good he was at the time. For me, that was the match where I started to realize he was the real deal.”

Bobrovsky finished his rookie season 28-13-8 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 54 regular season games. Beyond the results, it was Bobrovsky’s work ethic that earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“That’s what I remember about him, the amount of time he spent honing his craft, the amount of time he spent in the gym, stretching and working on himself,” Briere said. “I remember that. He was always at the rink early, was always the last one to leave, and when you came back in the afternoon, he was still in the gym. There’s a reason why he’s still on a high note today caliber plays. felt like he lived at the rink. He was always there.”

He also endeared himself outside the rink. Although Bobrovsky did not speak English, he was able to show his personality in unique ways.

‘Those slippers you get in hotels? I think he would steal them and he would wear the slippers on the plane,” Boucher said. “He had a pair of Four Seasons slippers on his feet. That was before he made a lot of money. I’m sure his slipper game has increased since then.’

With Bobrovsky leading the way, the Flyers finished first in the Atlantic Division and faced the Buffalo Sabers in the first round of the playoffs.

Bobrovsky got the start in Game 1 and made 24 saves in a 1–0 loss. In Game 2, he allowed three goals on seven shots and Laviolette pulled him into the game at the 12:30 mark. Boucher started four of the next five games with Michael Leighton as a backup and Bobrovsky scratched until returning as a backup to Boucher for Game 7, which Philadelphia won 5–2.

In the second round against the Boston Bruins, Boucher started the first three games, but Bobrovsky replaced him in every game. With the Flyers down 3-0 in the series, Bobrovsky started Game 4 and made 22 saves in a 5-1 season-ending loss.

Despite the revolving door in goal in Philadelphia during that postseason run, Bobrovsky never showed any frustration.

“I think he kind of ran out of gas that first year,” Reese said. “Really. But in terms of his attitude, it was great all season. He just wanted to play. He wanted to play every game. The great ones want to play every night, they want to be there, they want to make a difference every night.”

That offseason, the Flyers traded for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, signing him to a nine-year contract. Bobrovsky, who saw his future as a limited starter, was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets after the 2011-12 season.

Bobrovsky’s career began in Columbus. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2013 and 2017, and helped the Blue Jackets win their only playoff series, a first-round upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019.

Now in his fifth season at Florida, he leads all playoff goaltenders with 11 wins and his 2.27 GAA is third among goaltenders who have played at least 12 games this postseason.

And to Laviolette, he still looks like the same driven, determined goaltender he had in Philadelphia all those years ago.

“Having him as a young player in Philly, I’ve seen him grow,” Laviolette said. “The years he had in Columbus and now in Florida proved that he was a top goaltender in the League. But he was a guy who worked on the ice every day. He wanted to get better at his craft and he did.”

NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report

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