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Columbus playoff chances rest with Bobrovsky

Aug 25, 2013, 12:33 PM EDT

COLUMBUS, OH -MARCH 16: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates with his teammates after making 39 saves as Columbus shut out the Phoenix Coyotes 1-0 in a shootout on March 16, 2013 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
(March 15, 2013 - Source: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America) Getty Images

When people were projecting that the Columbus Blue Jackets would be terrible in 2013, Sergei Bobrovsky was the factor that was overlooked.

Bobrovsky had a solid rookie season with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-11, so even after his rough sophomore campaign, it certainly wasn’t unreasonable to assume that he was capable of being respectable in 2013. But winning the Vezina Trophy?

“Sergei had a great year,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards told NHL.com. “He was great himself, but what I think gets lost in the mix is how the guys played in front of him.”

Fair enough, he didn’t single-handily carry the Blue Jackets. Their defensive group is a major strength of this team and one we’ll look into as Blue Jackets day progresses. At the same time, Bobrovsky was the catalyst to their late season surge in 2013 that nearly vaulted them into the playoffs. With a 1.60 GAA and .946 save percentage in the final two months of the season, Bobrovsky posted a 18-5-3 record.

Had another goaltender been between the pipes during that stretch, the Blue Jackets might be pumping up their latest top-five draft pick rather than talking about building off last season’s success. Which begs the question: Can the 24-year-old goaltender do it again this season? Or does that two month stretch represent a hot streak that paid off big because the campaign was shortened?

They don’t need Bobrovsky to win another Vezina Trophy, but it’s fair to say they’ve put a considerable amount of faith in him. The Blue Jackets are projected to enter the season with Curtis McElhinney as their backup goaltender. McElhinney is coming off of a strong season in the minors, but he is 30 years old and has a career 3.10 GAA and .899 save percentage in 69 NHL games.

“He has that quality that [Rangers goaltender Henrik] Lundqvist has, that focus,” teammate Brandon Dubinsky said of Bobrovsky. “He has what it takes to be an elite goaltender; tack on his work ethic on top of that and the sky’s the limit for him.

“Start with a guy like that and you can build a team around it.”

They have done just that, but if Bobrovsky falters as Steve Mason did after his Calder Trophy-winning season, then 2013-14 will be another in a line of heartbreaking seasons for the Blue Jackets.

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