Bobrovsky sizzling for Blue Jackets down stretch
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been looking for a top-flight goaltender since entering the NHL in 2000. In Sergei Bobrovsky, they may have finally filled that need.
Bobrovsky's goaltending has been the biggest factor in the Blue Jackets' late push toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He led Columbus to a perfect 3-0-0 showing last week by allowing only three goals despite facing 103 shots -- and that doesn't count the two shootout stops he made in Saturday's 3-2 road win against the Minnesota Wild.
Bobrovsky, acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers last summer, has been carrying the scoring-challenged Blue Jackets on his back. Since Feb. 26, he's cut his goals-against average from 2.90 to 2.01 and improved his save percentage from .899 to .932 -- while going 13-4-3 and bringing Columbus within sight of the second playoff berth in franchise history.
Five up -- Five other players who had a good week:
Phil Kessel -- After a slow start, Kessel has been coming on strong as the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to push for their first playoff berth since 2004. Kessel had a pair of two-goal games and added another tally on Saturday as the Maple Leafs went 2-0-1 to close in on a postseason berth.
Pascal Dupuis -- The absence of Sidney Crosby hasn't slowed down Dupuis, who has become an offensive force in his own right. Dupuis had two goals and seven points last week while going plus-7 as the Pittsburgh Penguins won all three of their games.
Vernon Fiddler -- The veteran checking center put up just 10 points in the Dallas Stars' first 36 games. But he fueled the Stars' playoff push last week with two goals and six points in three games -- all Dallas victories. He also went plus-5, showing that he wasn't forgetting his defensive responsibilities.
Brian Elliott -- Elliott has stepped into the starting job for the St. Louis Blues after Jaroslav Halak went down with an injury and has looked like the goaltender who made the All-Star Game last season rather than the guy who couldn't stop a beach ball earlier this season. Elliott posted back-to-back road shutouts this week and allowed only two goals in the three games he played.
Joey MacDonald -- The Calgary Flames claimed MacDonald on waivers in February when injured decimated their goaltending. The 33-year-old journeyman may have had the best week of his NHL career, winning all three of his starts while allowing four goals on 100 shots.
Five down -- Five players who are struggling:
Brandon Sutter -- The Penguins have been looking for other players to step up and provide offense in the absence of Sidney Crosby. Sutter hasn't been generating any for the past few weeks -- he's gone 10 games without producing a point for a team that's 19-2-0 in its past 21 games.
Andrei Loktionov -- Like Pittsburgh, the New Jersey Devils are looking for other sources of offense while their big gun (Ilya Kovalchuk) is out with an injury. Loktionov had been giving the Devils some secondary scoring until going pointless in the past six games.
Mikko Koivu -- The Minnesota Wild's captain was a point-a-game man until going scoreless in the past seven games despite averaging nearly 21 minutes of ice time in that span. Until Koivu was even on Saturday, he had been minus-1 in each of the Wild's six previous games.
Jordan Eberle -- Eberle's offensive struggles have been part of the reason the Edmonton Oilers have faded out of the Western Conference playoff race. Eberle has gone without a point in the Oilers' past five games and has been a minus player in all five.
Drew Stafford -- The three-time 20-goal scorer is having a nightmarish season for the Buffalo Sabres. He's gone 10 games without producing a point, has just five goals and 13 points in 41 games -- and his minus-16 rating is among the poorest in the NHL.
The week ahead -- The next-to-last week of the regular season will be a hectic one -- 16 of the 30 teams play four times. The Boston Bruins get to spent the whole week at home; the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets will be on the road for all four of their games. The New York Islanders are the first team to complete its home schedule -- the Islanders hit the road for their final five games after hosting the Panthers on Tuesday.
Games to watch:
Dallas at Chicago (April 15; NBCSN/TSN) -- The Dallas Stars bring a five-game winning streak to United Center, where the Chicago Blackhawks will try to move within one point of clinching first place in the Western Conference.
New York Rangers at Philadelphia and Los Angeles at San Jose (April 16; NBCSN) -- The NBC Sports Network has a doubleheader featuring two of the NHL's best rivalries. The New York Rangers need a win to remain in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, while the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks are jockeying for position in the West -- and could wind up meeting in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Boston at Buffalo (April 17; NBCSN/TSN2) -- This week's Wednesday Night Rivalry matches a pair of Northeast Division teams with different objectives. The Boston Bruins are battling for first place, while the Buffalo Sabres are trying to mount a late run to a playoff berth.
Minnesota at San Jose (April 18; NHLN-US) -- The Minnesota Wild wrap up a three-game road trip with a stop at the Shark Tank as they try to stay in the top eight in the Western Conference.
Pittsburgh at Boston (April 19; NHLN-US) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins come to TD Garden for a matchup with the Boston Bruins in what could be a tune-up for a showdown in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Florida at New Jersey and Toronto at Ottawa and Detroit at Vancouver (April 20; NHLN-US) -- Viewers in the United States can tune in for a tripleheader, capped by a showdown between the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. That game, as well as the Toronto-Ottawa contest that precedes it, can also be seen on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.
New Jersey at New York Rangers (April 21; NBC/TSN2) -- The final week of the regular season begins with the New Jersey Devils' first trip through the Lincoln Tunnel to Madison Square Garden; they'll be back on Saturday for their season finale.
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist