As the Bruins stand with a commanding 3-0 lead at home, and the Flyers holding seemingly no answers in part thanks to a playoff-long goaltending turnstile, one has to ask "What went wrong?" The answer may not be further away than a 7-4 Flyers win over the Isles in a mostly meaningless game 82 for both teams.
Prior to this year, the young Sergei Bobrovsky had only played a total of 67 games in two KHL seasons for Novokuznetsk Metallurg. He wasn't even expected to play in the NHL this season, but instead take time in the AHL to get acclimated with the North American game. But Bob's incredible preseason play, Micheal Leighton's injury and Johan Backlund's poor preseason jump him up the depth chart.
The Flyers were rewarded with some great runs from Bob, as he won 8 of 9 (with an OTL) from the end of October to midway through November, plus another streak which included him winning all 6 games he played in January. Yet endurance was the biggest question mark, and his first game of March would be his 40th of the season. He would have one great game, and one horrifying game. Yet with the #1 seed in the conference and their division lead both up for grabs, the Flyers kept going back to the well.
A great five game run to end March and begin April gave Bobrovsky enough steam for coach Peter Laviolette to name him official playoff starter for the Flyers. During that run he posted games with .968, .973, .926, .955, and .941 SV%, including his first back-to-back wins since January. He was named playoff starter following a loss to Ottawa in which he gave up 4 goals on 35 shots. That was on April 5th. A few days later, April 8th, he went to overtime with Buffalo in a 4-3 OTL although he only had 25 saves on 29 shots.
It was then surprising to see Bob get his first back to back starts since December 4th and 5th, as he was announced as the starter for the Islanders game to finish the season. For the Flyers the choice made a lot of sense. The Islanders had nothing to play for, were down to the bottom of the barrel on defensemen -- signing ATOs to fill out the season -- and were even starting Rick DiPietro. There were only two Islanders on the roster that night who had even won a game at Philly while an Islander.
Give Bobrovsky a start against the Islanders, who had only beaten the Flyers one time in the last almost 20 meetings, easy win and you get his confidence back, right? It was as close to a no-lose situation for the Flyers as they could possibly get for the young Bobrovsky. And it started well: With two Flyers goals scored in under a minute, it had all the looks of an easy night as the Flyers looked to be running over the Isles.
It turned just as quickly on the Flyers, as Bob gave up 3 goals in a five-minute span of the first and turned around the momentum of the game. He was quickly pulled, his final stats for the night left at 3 goals against, 10 shots against, 12 minutes played.
Although that didn't change who was starting for the Flyers in the playoffs, it was a sign of what was to come. Bobrovsky lost the first game of the playoffs to Buffalo just 1-0 while facing 25 shots. But the following game he started and gave up 3 goals in 13 minutes with 7 shots against. That led to Bob being shown to the press box and last year's playoff hero Micheal Leighton and Brian Boucher being given second and third chances to win the day.
Although Bob is back on the bench, he still hasn't started another game as the Flyers have dropped three straight to the Bruins. Laviolette's unwillingness to put Bob back on the ice (and even going so far as putting Boucher back out after he had suffered an injury) has got to make you wonder if Lavi is beyond hope on Bob.
It also brings up the idea of any game being truly "meaningless." Maybe if the Islanders lay down and die instead of fighting back in game 82, the confidence within and behind Bobrovsky isn't shaken, and the Flyers aren't in this hole.