Focused Bryzgalov Comes Up Huge For Flyers

7 Jan

WELLS FARGO CENTER — Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t do a lot of talking on Friday at practice. He politely answered questions, even threw in a bit of his trademarked comedy. He wanted his play to do the talking.

Yes, sure, he got the win on Thursday night over the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks. But in the third period he let in two goals that he wanted to have back. On Saturday, the performance was one of his best this year. He made 35 saves and got another win, one he felt better about.

“Bryz played well,” said Braydon Coburn. “He was solid to the shooter. He played the puck well tonight. He was solid in there all game for us tonight. When we needed him to come up with some big saves, he definitely did that, so he had a big night and I’m happy for him.”

Bryzgalov was subdued postgame, cautious not to be too outgoing or casual. He didn’t want to just goof around, something he had been accused of doing and subsequently ripped for. He was relaxed, but focused, just like how he played against Ottawa.

“Yeah, I was happy with my game tonight,” said Bryzgalov. “Like I said before, the other night was lots of positive signs and I’m glad I can improve my game tonight.”

The Flyers hit the post four times in the game, so it could have been much more than a 3-2 victory. Instead it was kept close from start to finish and part of that reason why was Bryzgalov. He came up huge on multiple occasions. From a glove save on Chris Neil while he was down on the ground, to a game-saving stop on Bobby Butler in overtime, Bryzgalov was there when the Flyers needed him most.

“It was 2-1 [Ottawa] and we gave up some 2-on-1s and they could have ran away with the game, but he was able to keep us in there,” said Danny Briere who scored each of the team’s three goals. “And in overtime, too, we had some breakdowns that we’d like to get back.”

There was a clear difference in Bryzgalov on the ice. It wasn’t just that he made the saves, but how. He was very good laterally, moving from post-to-post. He had to do that on the Butler stop in overtime. He was also much better at rebound control, something that has been a thorn in his side all year.

“You can play the game and you still feel not confident, not comfortable,” said Bryzgalov, referring to the game against Chicago where he made 30 saves on 34 shots, but won by the slimmest of margins, 5-4. “Then somehow after some save or something click in your head, you just be yourself again and everything finds you. Everything stops for you. You see everything. You hear everything. I dunno, it’s just mental.”

Whenever that happened for Bryzgalov is unclear. Judging by the difficulty of some of his first-period saves, it probably happened pretty early Saturday afternoon. Either way, the Flyers are glad to have him back.

“He was excellent, I thought from the start to the finish,” said Peter Laviolette. “Goaltending was a factor tonight. It was good both ways. A lot of opportunities and a lot of attempts, but our guy held us in there for some chances against Ottawa. They have a high-scoring team. We knew going into it they would generate chances and that we would need good goaltending.”

Who knows if there’s a correlation between Bryzgalov’s personality and his play? Maybe it doesn’t matter which “face,” as he said on HBO’s “24/7,” he puts on. But on Saturday he put on the serious face. He barely even smiled when asked about the win. But what’s clear is that his head was in the right place, and he was stopping pucks as well as he had all season.

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