Lyon gets chance with Panthers in Cup Final after long layoff


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Jul 07, 2023

Lyon gets chance with Panthers in Cup Final after long layoff

LAS VEGAS -- Tucked in a busy hallway, just outside the visiting dressing room

LAS VEGAS -- Tucked in a busy hallway, just outside the visiting dressing room at T-Mobile Arena, Alex Lyon was swinging a kettlebell. It was not long after the conclusion of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, a game in which Lyon did not play and, while the rest of his teammates were talking to media in the dressing room and lamenting their loss, showering off and getting dressed to return to their hotel, Lyon was working out.

It would have been easy to dismiss Lyon, now once again relegated to the backup goalie of the Florida Panthers, with Sergei Bobrovsky stealing the headlines and the big lights.

But Lyon was, as always, remaining prepared, remaining ready. And, two days later, he would be back on the ice for the Panthers, taking over for Bobrovsky at 27:10 of Game 2, a 7-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights that put Florida down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, which shifts to South Florida for Game 3 on Thursday at FLA Live Arena (8 p.m. ET; TNT, TBS, truTV, CBC, TVAS, SN).

Whether it will be a brief Cup Final cameo or a longer stay for Lyon is yet to be determined for the Panthers, who have seen Bobrovsky's performance dip over his past three games. After handling the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference Second Round and the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference final -- allowing 16 goals against in nine games for a 1.51 goals-against average and .954 save percentage -- the goalie has allowed eight goals to the Golden Knights in less than five periods and 11 goals in his past three games.

When asked about whether he might consider a change in goal for Game 3, Panthers coach Paul Maurice said, "I don't know. We'll sweat about that for the next two days. We can be a little better in front of our goaltender. He's been unbelievable for us, so I got him out to keep him rested."

Lyon finished Game 2 allowing three goals on 15 shots in 32:50 of ice time.

If he returns to the net, or if he doesn't, Lyon has played a crucial role for the Panthers. Without his goaltending down the stretch and in the first round, it's possible the Panthers wouldn't still be playing. They might not have gotten into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They might not have made it out of the first round.

"Being able to step in and put the team on his shoulders and bring [us] into the playoffs, that's amazing," Bobrovsky said. "He's done an unbelievable job. I don't think we would be here without him."

It's not necessarily a position even Lyon might have expected last summer when he signed a one-year deal with the Panthers on July 13. He was coming off a Calder Cup win with the Chicago Wolves, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Hurricanes, having gone 18-7-3 in the regular season in the AHL with a 2.16 GAA and a .912 save percentage, followed by a 9-3 record and .923 save percentage in the playoffs.

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But his career had been mostly one of being a backup, a replacement, filling in where needed in the NHL while most toiling in the AHL.

Signed by the Panthers to a two-way deal, Lyon was one of six goalies on the training camp roster, clearly behind Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight and maybe even behind J-F Berube.

But instead of being an afterthought, the 30-year-old has turned out to be integral to the Panthers season.

"He was so good in difficult situations," Maurice said. "He played every night in that end-of-January schedule. We had three sets of back-to-backs - I mean, nobody plays their backup goalie in back-to-backs. We just ran him straight through. We didn't have much of an option at that point."

Lyon had come up from the AHL on Jan. 10 with Knight felled by injury. When Bobrovsky sustained an injury Jan. 19, the net was handed to Lyon. He played six straight games, including two sets of back to backs.

He would grab hold of the net, once again, in March, with Bobrovsky out with an illness and Knight in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. Lyon started the final eight games of the regular season, including a six-game winning streak that began with Lyon's start against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on March 29, a stretch that was ultimately the reason Florida made the postseason.

"He stepped in in a tough situation, a very hard situation when our season was on the line and we played a very difficult opponent," Bobrovsky said. "We played Leafs in their building. And he hadn't played much."

But he did it. He did exactly what they needed, with a .956 save percentage over that six-game winning streak and a 1.50 GAA, with the "Circle of Life" from "The Lion King" soundtrack routinely playing after games to honor the Lyon's "Lyon King" nickname.

He would start the first three games of the first round against the Boston Bruins before ceding the net to Bobrovsky in Game 3, going 1-2 with a 3.26 GAA and .902 save percentage. Until Game 2 of the Cup Final, he had not played since the first round.

During his time with the Panthers, Lyon has developed a good relationship with Bobrovsky, learning from him and supporting him, no matter who was the starter at the time.

"He's very open and that's huge," Lyon said. "Not all goalie tandems are that strong or that open with each other, so I really appreciate that."

It has helped him, as he has been put in the sometimes-complicated position of living between two worlds.

"The hardest part for sure in my opinion, especially going AHL to NHL, is that in the AHL, I'm the man," said Lyon, who has 39 career games (31 starts) in the NHL and 202 in the AHL. "My personality can just flow, I can say whatever I want, and I'm not trying to be too boisterous, but when you're comfortable in a place and the team relies on you, your personality shows, it's much more easy to be comfortable in that situation.

"And then you come up and all of a sudden, you're the lowest man on the totem pole. I'm sure I speak for all AHLers in this situation, but it's just very, very difficult to maintain your game when you're not quite as confident in your surrounding areas."

But through the run, Lyon has found a way to become comfortable, has found a way to become important, to be a cog in the machine that is the Panthers.

To put his stamp on the Panthers and their run.

"It's easy to say, 'Well I'm going to go up there, I'm going to be the man, I'm going to be comfortable,' but when you've got Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, these guys are unreal, it can be intimidating," Lyon said. "So, it's just learning how to manage that. I've gotten better at it. I think this year I've been able to bring my game to the NHL level, as close as I've ever been."

Which is why he's here. It's why the Panthers, in part, are too.