BRANDON -- Asked to compare the two well-regarded goaltenders in the Lightning’s first-round playoff matchup with Columbus -- and well as gauge their position as Vezina Trophy candidates -- Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella declined to measure up Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Fairly enough, Tortorella skated around the question, saying he doesn’t have the insight into Vasilevskiy, who is considered a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. But in the process, Tortorella paid Bobrovky a grand compliment, saying no one prepares better than the two-time Vezina winner.
“I’m not going to talk about any trophies, not at this time of the year,” Tortorella said. "But I’ll tell you the guy we have, he is one hell of a goalie. I can’t speak on Vasy, I’m not with him every day.
"I know the guy we have, the way he prepares, the way he goes about his business before he steps on the it, it is second to none," Tortorella said. "I've had (Dominik) Hasek, I've had Hendrik Lunqvuist, I've had some really good goalies that I've been fortunate enough to be around and watch how they prepare. And there's no one who prepares better than our guy."
It’s true that Tortorella has seen his share of elite goaltenders. He was an assistant in Buffalo, where Dominik Hasek won six Vezina trophies. Tortorella’s Stanley Cup title run with the Lightning 2003-'04 was underwritten by Nikolai Khabibulin’s remarkable postseason (16 wins, five shutouts, 1.71 goals against average). Hendrik Lundqvist won a Vezina Trophy in 2011-'12 with the Rangers under Tortorella.
Bobrovsky’s play will be key to the series, because while he has long been one of the league’s best, this hasn’t been his most consistent campaign.
He lost five of his first seven decisions and was just 10-10 with a .894 save percentage from Jan. 4 to March 3 before finishing the season strong, winning 10 of his last 13 decisions including a 6-1 stretch to end the regular season with .947 save percentage and 1.43 goals against average.
The Blue Jackets needed that performance to make the postseason, winning seven of their last eight to clinch a playoff spot on the regular season’s final day.
Also, Bobrovsky struggled in two regular-season meetings against the Lightning this year, allowing 12 goals, including eight even strength goals. He has a career .880 save percentage and 3.44 goals against average in 13 games against Tampa Bay.
Now, Bobrovsky will look to improve on some pedestrian postseason numbers. He owns a 3-10 record, .887 save percentage and 3.63 goals against average in 18 postseason games.