Florida rides Sergei Bobrovsky’s best game as a Panther to a blowout win in Edmonton

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Sergei Bobrovsky split his legs and splayed his body all the way across the goalmouth while final seconds ticked away on the first period Thursday, and the Edmonton Oilers tried to finally take a lead on the Florida Panthers. It was another save — his 17th thus far — and it was maybe his best yet, falling to his stomach and stretching his body as wide as possible to deny Jesse Puljujarvi’s tip-in try. The puck hit off the star goaltender’s chest and dropped to the ice in front of his right leg, where his the Panthers could sweep it away to safety and escape the first period unscathed.

Before he headed back to the locker room, Radko Gudas made a pit stop at his net. The defenseman bumped fists with Bobrovsky and punched him in the shoulder, and then skated away. The goaltender grabbed his water bottle, bowed his head and slowly followed Gudas off the ice. He could finally catch his breath after his 17-save first period had kept Florida alive and given the Panthers a chance to regroup for 6-0 rout in Canada.

“We’re very grateful for that,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said, “because they barnstormed us there early.”

Bobrovsky’s first period, in particular, was exactly what Florida needed. After losing 10 of their last 13 on the road including a blowout loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the Panthers (27-8-5) won by wearing down the Oilers (18-16-2) and Bobrovsky, who finished with 40 saves for his first shutout since 2019, gave his teammates a chance to do it. He made 17 saves in the first period and 12 more in the second, and by then Florida was up 2-0 going into the third. In the first period in Edmonton, the Oilers outshot the Panthers, 17-7, yet they were tied 0-0 and Florida had a chance to take the lead for good in the second.

Star center Aleksander Barkov scored with 14:32 left in the second period and Carter Verhaeghe added another 2:39 later, with Sam Reinhart providing the primary assist on both goals.

With Bobrovsky dialed in, it was more than enough for the Panthers to win and vault back into a tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division, even with one fewer game played than their in-state rival.

“Tonight, he was the best player on the ice,” Verhaeghe said, “by far.”

There was no time for Bobrovsky to ease into the game and hardly a moment of respite in the opening period. He faced his first shot with 18:18 left in the first when he denied superstar center Connor McDavid on a breakaway and then he saved six more in the next two minutes. He made three saves on a penalty kill and had 14 total in the first 11:30, then three more in the final 2:43 of the period.

His 40 total saves were his fourth most of the season, and his second most ever in a shutout, and seven of those saves came on the penalty kill. The last time Bobrovsky posted a shut was in his 12th game with Florida.

“We worked together,” said Bobrovsky, who’s now up to seventh in the league in save percentage and ranks third in the league in goals saved above expected. “The guys had timely blocked shots. They helped a lot in the D zone. It was a great six-person effort in the first period and all game long, and it’s definitely fun to be part of it.”

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In the third period, the Panthers blew the game open. Barkov scored again with 16:47 left and winger Anthony Duclair made it 4-0 with 4:20 remaining, assisted by All-Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, who moved up into second in the league with 54 points after a two-assist game.

Wingers Sam Bennett and Owen Tippett, playing in his first NHL game since he was sent down to the American Hockey League last week, also added garbage-time goals and 11 players contributed points in the blowout win. The crowd of 9,150 at Rogers Placed booed their struggling team as the Oilers lost their seventh straight and 13th in the last 15 games.

Despite the final score, it still wasn’t exactly the sort of 60-minute road performance Florida has been looking for, but it provided a glimpse of how the Panthers might be able to string together some victories away from South Florida.

The Panthers never fell behind — all thanks to Bobrovsky — and the game flipped in their favor right around the 30-minute mark as their depth could start to overwhelm Edmonton. After the Oilers had a 12-8 edge in scoring chances in the first period, Florida had a 21-18 advantage in the final two and made the most of them to split its two games in Alberta to kick off a five-game road trip.

“The game could’ve gone a lot different,” Verhaeghe said, “without [Bobrovsky] back there.”

Florida Panthers players celebrate a goal on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19), left, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Florida Panthers players celebrate a goal on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19), left, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Up next

The Panthers continue their road trip Friday against the Vancouver Canucks at 10 p.m. at Rogers Arena.

Florida hasn’t played the Canucks (18-18-3) in more than two years and hasn’t played in Vancouver since 2019.

The Panthers will then close out the road trip, their longest of the season so far, with two more road games next week before returning to Sunrise on Thursday.

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