The Philadelphia Flyers thought that they had solved their problem as to who would be their starting playoff goaltender after a huge victory last Saturday in Dallas against the Stars. A victory in which their 22-year old rookie of the year candidate from Novokuznetsk, Russia – Sergei Bobrovsky – would help lift his team to victory.
Bobrovsky stood tall that night on the road, turning away 28 of 30 Stars shots through overtime and stopping five of six shooters in the shootout frame, some of those saves of the spectacular variety.
The play of Bobrovsky that night allowed his team to come out on top 3-2 and earn themselves a huge two points in the standings. And maybe just as important as the win, was the Flyers maybe finally settling on their starting goalie heading into the playoffs.
This is, however, the NHL, arguably the most grueling and fierce of the four major sports. Things can change in this sport quite rapidly, and Bobrovsky found that out just three nights later, when he faltered against the injury-riddled Washington Capitals. Bobrovsky looked anything but spectacular against the Caps, struggling mightily and allowing three pucks by him on only nine shots before he was pulled in favor of Brian Boucher early in the second period.
Ironically however, Bobrovsky, would not be the goalie of record when all was said and done that night in South Philly. The Flyers rallied to take a third period lead only to lose in another shootout. Boucher was saddled with the loss, as he allowed a late third period goal that tied the game, and all three shots he faced in the shootout would find the twine as well.
After that game, Flyers followers wondered who would be the goaltender on Thursday night when the rival Pittsburgh Penguins invaded the Wells Fargo Center. The Penguins, like the Caps, were coming into Philly a wounded bunch without two of the top players in the NHL, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. The Penguins, even with all their injury woes, came into the game only five points behind the first place Flyers in the race for top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Flyers coach, Peter Laviolette had no doubt in his mind as to who his starting netminder would be for the big division showdown. Laviolette turned again to his 22-year old rookie goaltender, and Bobrovsky didn’t disappoint.
The Flyers looked sluggish and slow the entire game, but Bobrovsky continuously brought the Flyers’ faithful to their feet as he made one spectacular stop after another. Bobrovsky would stop 30 of 31 shots for the game, while the Flyers were only able to muster 20 shots through three periods and overtime on Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The only Flyers goal came in the first period from Mike Richards, off a fluky bounce in front of the Penguins’ net.
The Pens’ lone goal came off the stick of Tyler Kennedy as he snapped a wrister from inside the dot past Bobrovsky to knot the game at one.
One of Bobrovsky’s best saves came in the second period, as he stacked his pads and dove across to his left to thwart a Pens’ scoring chance and keep the game knotted at one goal apiece.
The score would remain that way through regulation and the five minute overtime period.
The overtime period was all Pittsburgh, as they outshot the Flyers 3-0 with Bobrovsky again coming up huge and sending the game into the shootout.
The Penguins struck first in the shootout’s bottom second frame on a goal off the stick of Alex Kovalev. The Flyers’ Daniel Briere would keep the Flyers alive as he would score in the top of frame three to tie the score.
Bobrovsky got low and made a huge left pad stop on the Penguins’ next shootout attempt by James Neal. Flyers captain Mike Richards would have a chance to put his team up in the shootout’s fourth frame, but could not solve Fleury.
The shootout would end on the next shot as Penguins forward Chris Kunitz beat Bobrovsky to give his team the victory along with the two points.
After the game, sitting in front of his locker still wearing his pads that were stained with black rubber, a tired and dejected looking Bobrovsky was asked how he felt after this tough loss. He replied with the help of an interpreter: “I am not happy about the loss, but I am happy I made a lot of stops.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette would say at his post game press conference: “We got beat in most areas; if it weren’t for our goaltender, we wouldn’t have gotten any points tonight.”
The Flyers won’t have much time to think about this loss as they will be on Long Island, New York to take on the Islanders on Saturday night before returning home for a huge tilt with the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins on Sunday night.