With future Hall of Fame goaltender Roberto Luongo watching from the press box above the ice inside Amalie Arena, the Sergei Bobrovsky era for the Florida Panthers began on Thursday in a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Five days after Luongo retired this summer, the Panthers quickly turned the Florida goaltending duties over to two-time Vezina Trophy winner Bobrovsky with a seven-year contract worth $70 million.
With the record signing, Panthers management hope his presence in net will serve as a stabilizing force for a team looking to rise from the depths of the league standings and back into prominence. Florida last season finished 28th overall in goals against, averaging 3.3 goals allowed per game.
In his Florida debut, Bobrovsky finished with 25 saves while facing the same team that he helped eliminate from the playoffs last season while a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It felt good; it’s good to start the season,’’ Bobrovsky said. “Obviously, we wanted to have the ‘W’ tonight, but it is what it is. It’s a long season. I don’ think we have to think too much, we just need to put this game behind us and get ready for our home opener.’’
Bobrovsky was beaten through traffic on a one-timer from reigning MVP Nikita Kucherov, another long range shot that deflected and two rebound chances in close.
“He’s a world-class goalie, you have to score tips and rebounds to beat him,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. The save he made on [Ondrej] Palat in the second period ...’’
That save for the 30-year-old goaltender came in the second period, just after Florida failed to convert on a 2-on-0 chance.
As Tampa Bay put some pressure on the Panthers in the zone, Anthony Cirelli found an open Palat across the slot for a one-timer chance. But Bobrovsky was able to get a strong push with his right skate across the crease and snare the puck and deny the Lightning from taking the lead.
“You have take his eyes away and stay in front to make sure he doesn’t see a lot of pucks,’’ said Palat, who scored the eventual winner just as power play expired at 9:34 of the third period, 45 seconds after Florida tied the score on a Vincent Trocheck short-handed goal. “He’s a great goalie, and he’s going to make some great saves, so you have to take his eyes away.”rovsky
But that save wasn’t enough for the Panthers to build momentum and give Bobrovsky a more positive result in his debut with the Panthers.
“They had some chances, but the guys played well,’’ Bobrovsky said. “It’s up to the coaches to make those changes defensively. They see the game from my standpoint. I have to reset, refocus and give the guys a chance to win.’’
That chance comes at home on Saturday, against the same team he faced to open the season.