We never forget former Flyers, even when we want to.
Sergei Bobrovsky always has been on the back of our minds — the Russian goaltender traded away to accommodate another Russian goaltender.
Now, all of hockey is paying attention to “Bob” and his surprising Florida Panthers. The Panthers shocked the hockey world, again, by eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games Friday night.
The previous shocker was Florida taking out the record-setting Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round. This, after Boston set NHL records for wins with 65 and points with 135.
And facing that Bruins’ juggernaut were the 92-point Panthers, who barely qualified for the playoffs at the very end of the season.
“I think the real story with Sergei is the pressure he was under when I put him in the deciding game in Boston,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice told reporters after Game 5 on Friday.
“We’re going in, down 3-1 into Boston, go get ’em and he was lights out. I think about that sometimes. As a professional athlete, the amount of pressure that’s on him — and some of that’s based on his salary — all the pressure on him.
“And to be that good? You’ve got to have a little tiny smile on your face when you leave the rink, wouldn’t you think? Showed ya.”
50-save performance in Game 5
With all of Canada watching — given the love-hate relationship with the Maple Leafs — Bobrovsky and the Panthers stole the deciding Game 5 in Toronto, stopping 50 shots in the 3-2 victory.
Bobrovsky stopped 164 of 174 shots against the Leafs for a .942 save percentage and a 1.89 goals-against average. It’s probably too early to talk Conn Smythe Trophy, but Bobrovsky has put himself in that conversation.
In nine playoff starts, Bobrovsky, 34, has won seven. His goals-against average is 2.82 and his save percentage is .918.
“Bob grinds and just continues to work on his game and takes care of himself like no one I have seen,” Panthers captain Matthew Tkachuk told reporters.
“He deserves it. He has been a leader for us since he came back [from a non-Covid illness at the end of the season and into the beginning of the playoffs] and we are very lucky to have him.”
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour — another former Flyer — has the Hurricanes playing well. Carolina had a 52-win, 113-point season. The Hurricanes eliminated the Islanders in six games and the hot Devils in five games.
The Flyers signed Bobrovsky as a free agent in 2010. The situation got messy after his first season, in which he was 28-13-8, but 0-2 in the playoffs.
The Flyers, prodded by owner Ed Snider, signed goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a ridiculous, nine-year, $51 million contract in 2011.
“It had to be done,” Snider told the Philadelphia Daily News in 2011. “I was part of making it happen. It was hard to sit there and watch the Stanley Cup Final, knowing what [goalie Tim] Thomas was doing for Boston.”
Bobrovsky wanted out. He wasn’t interested in the backup job. So, in 2012, the Flyers dealt Bobrovsky, then 23, to the Blue Jackets for second- and fourth-round picks in the 2012 draft and a fourth-round pick in 2013.
In the 2012 draft, the Flyers picked goalie Anthony Stolarz and winger Taylor Leier. The 2013 pick was sent to the Kings, who used it to draft Justin Auger.
This was a terribly lopsided trade.
Bobrovsky has won the Vezina Trophy twice, in 2013 and 2017. He has enjoyed a 13-year NHL career, the last four in Florida. He is 360-207-51, with a 2.61 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.
Bryzgalov lasted two years in Philadelphia. In 11 playoff games in 2012, he was a dismal 5-6 and had a 3.46 goals-against average. In 2011-12, Bryzgalov was 33-16-7; Bobrovsky was 14-10-2.
It’s not your money, but the Flyers continue to pay Bryzgalov. He has one of those Bobby Bonilla deals where payments go on and on.
Bryzgalov’s last game with the Flyers was in 2013. Yet, the Flyers are still paying him $1,642,857 a year. That payment began in 2013 and lasts until 2027.
That’s each and every year.