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'A hard style to play against:' Panthers defense thriving in front of Sergei Bobrovsky in playoffs

Jordan McPherson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

NEW YORK — Sergei Bobrovsky, as he has had to do so many times this postseason, found himself waiting for the opportunity to get involved in the action in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday.

For 14 minutes and 23 seconds midway through the second period of the series opener, the New York Rangers did not log a single shot on goal against Bobrovsky despite putting up 10 shot attempts — eight missing the net, two getting blocked by Panthers players.

While the Rangers eventually upped the offensive intensity in the third period, they were no match for Bobrovsky and the Panthers’ stifling defense in Florida’s 3-0 win at Madison Square Garden.

“The guys worked hard again,” said Bobrovsky, who made 23 saves for his second career postseason shutout and is now 9-3 with a 2.17 goals against average so far in the playoffs. “They kept the gap up and didn’t give much ice. It was a great start for us.”

The Panthers’ performance Wednesday wasn’t some aberration. It’s how they played all regular season and it’s a big part of why they’re thriving in the playoffs.

Consider this: The Panthers’ 14-plus-minute stretch in the second period Wednesday without allowing a shot on goal was the eighth time Florida held an opponent without a shot on goal over a stretch of at least 10 minutes in the playoffs — and the fifth time that stretch spanned at least 14 minutes without getting a shot off against Bobrovsky.

 

Overall, the Panthers are allowing an average of just 24 shots on goal per game, the fewest among the eight teams who made it to at least the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This comes after the Panthers allowed an average of just 27.8 shots on goal per game in the regular season, the third-fewest in the league.

(For what it’s worth, the average shots on goal allowed per game in the playoffs by the other three teams in the conference finals — 24.5 for the Edmonton Oilers, 27.5 for the Dallas Stars and 32 for the Rangers.)

“We’ve got a lot of offensive guys on the team, but guys have bought into a certain style of play that has worked for us and has to keep working for us,” said star winger Matthew Tkachuk, who opened scoring in the first period and added an assist in the third. “That’s the best way to win in the playoffs. It’s a hard style to play, but it’s a hard style to play against. So we’re happy with this road win. We kept it low scoring. We kept it tight and we’re just supporting each other.”

It’s a continuation of Florida’s efforts in regular season, except the stage is magnified. The Panthers’ game Wednesday was their seventh in 12 postseason games in which they have held their opponent to 23 shots or fewer. Unsurprisingly, they are 7-0 in those games.

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