Sergei Bobrovsky looked as poised facing 58 shots as he did before the game when he calmly walked down the hallway in a buttoned-up beige trenchcoat.
On the ice, Bobrovsky stood out even more. The goaltender with a history of playoff struggles looked like his two-time Vezina Trophy-winning self in making 54 saves as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Washington Capitals 5-4 on Sunday night on Matt Calvert’s overtime winner to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
“He’s our best player and he was our best player by a mile tonight,” said Calvert, whose one-handed rebound 12:22 into overtime sent the Blue Jackets into a frenzy. “It makes us confident. When you’ve got him making up for your mistakes, it’s always good. He’s been doing it all season.”
The playoff version of Bobrovsky of years past was a confounding nightmare compared to his elite play during the regular season: 3-10 with a 3.63 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. Through two games this year, the second of which coach John Tortorella called “one of the best goaltending performances” he has seen, the reserved Russian has stopped 81 of 88 shots to send Columbus home for Game 3 Tuesday in a place it’s never been before.
The Blue Jackets had never led a playoff series until Thursday night. With “Bob” locked in like never before in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’re two victories away from advancing to the second round for the first time in franchise history.
“I would say your career is a journey and you learn some things here and there,” Bobrovsky said. “It doesn’t matter what’s in the past. When we’re gonna play third game, it doesn’t matter what happen tonight. Each moment is huge right now, and you just have to be ready.”
Columbus appears ready for anything against an experienced opponent with a history of playoff disappointments that has now blown two-goal leads in consecutive games. Just like in Game 1 when charging and tripping calls on Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky cost the Capitals, they were done in by penalties on Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly that led to goals by Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice on the power play and T.J. Oshie tied it with 3:35 left to give Washington a chance. When Philipp Grubauer was pulled for allowing four goals on 22 shots, Braden Holtby made seven saves, but now the Metropolitan Division champions are in a hole only 49 of 361 teams (13.6 percent) have dug out of to win a best-of-seven series.
“Right now in hard position, but it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and … tie the series,” Ovechkin said.
Coach Barry Trotz, who said he’d let his decision on who starts Game 3 simmer, added that the Capitals are “not going away.” Through two games, the Blue Jackets have shown they aren’t, either.
Penalty trouble almost cost the Blue Jackets as much as the Capitals, but they got to leave celebrating after Calvert’s OT goal held up to an offside review by the NHL situation room. Replays showed Calvert was just onside before scoring to make the Blue Jackets just the fifth team in NHL history to overcome a multi-goal deficit to win the first two games of a playoff series.
“Luckily, I got the rebound, had one hand on my stick and the rest is history,” Calvert said. “Two games in overtime, that can really crush a team.”
History says Calvert is right. The Capitals are the sixth team to lose Games 1 and 2 of a best-of-seven series in overtime, and the previous five have all lost.
NOTES: Columbus forward Josh Anderson scored after being ejected from Game 1 for boarding Washington’s Michal Kempny. … Columbus improved to 4-1 all-time in playoff overtime games. … Linesman Steve Barton had to be helped off the ice late in the first period after clipping skates with Anderson and going down clutching his left knee. On site as the standby official, mid-amateur golfer/referee Garrett Rank replaced Barton as the second linesman. … Columbus C Alexander Wennberg was out after taking a hit to the head from Wilson in Game 1. Coach John Tortorella only called Wennberg “day-to-day” with an upper-body injury. … Capitals F Jakub Vrana was a healthy scratch after recording an assist and committing two turnovers in 6:58 of ice time in Game 1.
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