Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice didn’t pin his team’s Game 2 loss Monday night to the Golden Knights on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was pulled 7:10 into the second period of a 7-2 Game 2 loss.
“We can do a little better in front of our goaltender,” Maurice said stoically, without the smile he wore after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “He’s been unbelievable for us. I got him out to keep him rested.”
Rested on Thursday, he will be.
Bobrovsky allowed four goals on 13 shots before ceding duties to Alex Lyon, who gave up three third-period goals while Bobrovsky watched. Twice the Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goalie, Bobrovsky carried Florida to the Stanley Cup Final — winning 11 of the 12 previous games by saving 94.2 percent of the shots he had faced.
But that figured has fallen to 82.6 percent in two games in Las Vegas, where the Panthers stumbled to a 2-0 series deficit.
Bobrovsky was not available for comment.
“He’s been our best player. He’s a huge, huge part of our team,” center Anton Lundell said. “We can always trust him, but we need to help him more. We need to play better defense. Too many chances for him.”
Bobrovsky started 49 games for the Panthers in 2022-23, saving 90.1 percent of shots and allowing 3.07 goals per game en route to a 24-20-3 record. Lyon started the first three games of the postseason, losing two of three to the record-setting Boston Bruins. Bobrovsky started Game 4, allowing four goals in a 6-2 loss — and starring ever since.
His 44 saves helped Florida win Game 5, marking the beginning of that stellar 12-game stretch.
He allowed six goals total against the Carolina Hurricanes in a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference Final.
But the Golden Knights have had his number, utilizing precise player and puck movement to befuddle Florida’s defenders — leaving Bobrovsky vulnerable against their vaunted attack.
Better supporting Bobrovsky “starts with … line changes, back-checking, holding pucks in the (offensive) zone, being closer together, not getting shots blocked” and “getting pucks in,” according to Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk.
“They do a majority, if not all, of their stuff off the rush,” Tkachuk added. “So just trying to shut down the rush game, and we did that against all the teams that we’ve played.”
But the rush isn’t the only thing troubling the Panthers, whose defenders are regularly screening Bobrovsky and thereby preventing him from seeing shots.
“If you’re going to be there, you’ve got to block them,” Maurice said. “We’ve got to get in front of those shots. So, we’re working at them. We’re trying. We’re three inches off on those shots.”
Maurice said the Panthers will “sweat about” whom they will start in between the pipes Thursday in Game 3, though deviating from Bobrovsky seems unlikely despite his struggles in the series.
“The parts of our game that we know that we can improve we’re going to have to get to real fast. There’s no doubt about that,” Maurice said. “We’ll have a pretty simple game plan. I don’t think it’s about scoring goals in this series, because I think it’s about defending the rush, and we weren’t great at that tonight.”