COLUMBUS — Sergei Bobrovsky has been able to put aside past disappointments in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and as a result the Columbus Blue Jackets are one win from the first sweep of a Presidents’ Trophy winner in the first round.
Bobrovsky settled down after a rough start to the Eastern Conference First Round and has the Blue Jackets in position to eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, SUN).
He was at his best in the third period of Game 3 on Sunday when Columbus was leading 2-0. He made 16 of his 30 saves in the period, and the Blue Jackets won 3-1 to move within one victory of winning a playoff series for the first time.
Blue Jackets forward Matt Duchene said Bobrovsky’s performance Sunday was the difference against the Lightning, who tied an NHL record with 62 wins this season.
“If they steal that game, that’s huge,” Duchene said. “That changes the entire complexion of the series.”
Even though Bobrovsky led the NHL with nine shutouts, including a League-high seven after Feb. 1, there rightly were questions about him entering the postseason. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner had a 5-14 record with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in 24 playoff games prior to the Tampa Bay series.
He did not allay those doubts in the first period of Game 1, when Columbus fell behind 3-0. But he made a critical save on Nikita Kucherov 26 seconds into the second period, and the Blue Jackets rallied for a 4-3 victory.
“He’s feeling really good,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “You can see it in his saves. He makes hard saves look easy. When he’s doing that, you know he’s on top of his game. When we see that out of him, it gives us an extra boost of confidence.”
In the past eight periods, Bobrovsky has allowed two goals on 71 shots (.972 save percentage).
“We have no doubt in our mind about him being locked in and ready to go,” Columbus defenseman Seth Jones said. “He’s the backbone of our team. We go as he goes. You’ve seen that so far in the postseason.”
Seeing Bobrovsky make big stops is inspiring, Jones said.
“It makes you rally. Our whole team is engaged in blocking shots,” he said. “[Bobrovsky] really makes you want to bear down and get the job done.”
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said Bobrovsky has been helped by Columbus making the playoffs three straight seasons.
“The more and more playoff hockey you play, the more and more comfortable you feel in the situations you’re put in,” Tortorella said. “I do feel the team has played pretty good in front of him and put in some good minutes, but in times of games when we really needed huge saves, he has made them.”
Bobrovsky gave his teammates credit for his success so far in the series.
“We’re all together,” he said. “Forwards are helping in the D zone. D is helping forwards. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
Foligno said he hasn’t noticed a difference in Bobrovsky from past playoffs in terms of demeanor or approach, but he suggested the reason his numbers are better this year is simple.
“I honestly think we are playing better in front of him, and he feels it,” he said. “You look at the way things have gone in the past; we haven’t played great in front of him. To let up as many goals as we have in the playoff series is on us as much as anything.”