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Bob Was As Good As Goalies Get

SUNRISE, FL - JUNE 08: Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a tough save in the first period during game one of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at Amerant Bank Area in Sunrise, Fla. (Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Everyone gets goalied, eventually. A team can do everything right—it can dictate play, it can dominate possession, it can earn plenty of great looks on net—but there's still that last guy to beat, and sometimes he simply won't allow it. There's little you can do but tap your stick to him. The Florida Panthers got the quintessential Goalie Game from Sergei Bobrovsky Saturday night in a 3-0 win, and you might never see a netminder more locked in. The Oilers better hope they won't, or it'll be a short Final.

Edmonton would seem the team best equipped to avoid running into a game like this, through sheer quantity. They had more shots than any team in the NHL in the regular season, and they monopolized the puck in this one, outshooting Florida 32-18. They weren't just chucking pucks, either; high-danger chances were 18-6, Oilers. Expected goals were 5.61-1.88 in favor of the Oil Men, and even if you mistrust that metric, the spread still tells the story through its hilarious width. But for every breakaway, every bit of daylight, there was Bobrovsky, putting a glove or a blocker or a pad in the way.

He was less brick wall than ballerino, not so much an immovable object attracting pucks to his bulk as if with gravity, but moving to meet them—nimble on his skates, seeing shots off the blade, thrusting and flailing not necessarily with an economy of movement but with the conviction and confidence of a goalie who's seeing pucks right off the blade. Some shutouts are feats of athleticism; Bobrovsky blanked the Oilers by his reads. He had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins dead to rights the whole way:

He reacted to rebounds before they rebounded:

He went windmill mode:

It was a thrill to watch a masterwork from a master. There's a reason that, despite goals from Carter Verhaeghe, Evan Rodrigues, and an empty-netter by Eetu Luostarinen, the rubber rats hurled by fans congregated around Bobrovsky's cage. Though he can be streaky, the 35-year-old has been Playoff Bob since about midway through the Boston series, and with this shutout established himself as a Conn Smythe frontrunner. All goalies' brains are fundamentally broken—it's part of the job description—but only a few take so much obvious pleasure in the pressure. “It’s fun to play those guys, those elite guys and it’s a fun atmosphere," Bobrovsky said. "I am just alive for the opportunity, and I enjoy every second of it.”

There was a lot to like in this game for the Oilers. Florida had only been outshot by double-digits three times all season and postseason, and Edmonton's favorite chance-generator, those quick diagonal passes through the neutral zone, were repeatedly effective at springing their forwards. If they could script a game for a rink's first 189 feet, it'd look a lot like this one. Can't script a goalie, though. He is there to turn the best-laid plans and world-class scorers into dead-end futility. He's working off his own script, and Bobrovsky's Game 1 was his magnum opus.

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