WASHINGTON - Sergei Bobrovsky made back-to-back saves at one end of the rink, dulling the home crowd waiting to erupt. Within seconds, fans were back in their seats after Colin White went down ice and scored a goal.
Save, score, repeat: It's a pattern that's working for the Florida Panthers.
They're red hot thanks in large part to the play of Bobrovsky, the goaltender with two Vezina Trophy seasons on his resume who has found his game just at the right time. "Bob" made 28 more saves in beating the Washington Capitals on Thursday night and has stopped 165 of the past 175 shots he has faced in his past five starts, helping Florida go 4-1 and continue their playoff pursuit.
"He looks like the guy that we remember in his prime," coach Paul Maurice said. "He looks young. He's getting across the crease fast. His rebound control is right. He's wired. He's finding pucks through screens."
And, as veteran defenseman Marc Staal pointed out, most important making big saves. Bobrovsky at 34 is saving the Panthers' bacon at times and happy to "take it as a compliment" that Maurice thinks he looks younger than his age.
Perhaps it's actually his experience that has helped Bobrovsky get back on track. It has certainly streamlined his approach.
"I keep working," Bobrovsky said. "End of January, there was lots of work I've done but not much result, so just stick with the plans, stick with the work. It's nice to see that things open up and it starts to get together."
Teammates credit Bobrovsky's work on and off the ice for his consistency.
"Guys like that that prepare the way he does - he doesn't just treat this as a day job," defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "He comes in here, he works hard every single day. When he's away form the rink, I know he does the right things, and it's only a matter of time for guys like that to continue their run."
With Bobrovsky playing like this, it's not hard to envision the Panthers going on a run after a rough start to the season and making the playoffs, just as they were expected to after being winning the Presidents' Trophy last year as the NHL's top team.
Maurice, in his first yearn coaching Florida, knows it's no coincidence that his players have more confidence with Bobrovsky stopping difficult shots behind them, and it's bleeding into the Panthers' winning play.
"He's eating stuff up," Maurice said. "The first 6-8 weeks of the season, we were pretty tight as a team because a lot of pucks that were getting to our net we couldn't get a handle on. Now you're feeling good. The guy back there's getting it done."
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