Bryzgalov now standing tall in Flyers' goal

Ilya Bryzgalov reaches out to swat puck off the stick of Florida's Tomas Kopecky during third period.
Ilya Bryzgalov reaches out to swat puck off the stick of Florida's Tomas Kopecky during third period. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: November 14, 2011

SUNRISE, Fla. - Standing in front of his locker in the depths of the BankAtlantic Center, Ilya Bryzgalov stripped off his dripping pads and took a deep breath, preparing for the most stressful part of his game-day routine: speaking to the media.

Less than 3 weeks ago, Bryzgalov stood in front of the assembled and reported that his game was "lost in the woods."

Quietly, without much fanfare or chatter, Bryzgalov said simply, "We found out where the problem was and we fixed it. That was it."

Since those mind-numbing comments on Oct. 27 after a 9-8 loss to Winnipeg, Bryzgalov has done more than just "fix" whatever was ailing him. He has been near the top of every statistical category.

Bryzgalov has stopped 139 of 148 shots (.939 save percentage) and allowed just nine goals in five games, while reeling off a 4-0-1 record. It was fitting then that Bryzgalov dealt the upstart Panthers a 3-2 loss last night, Florida's first regulation loss since Oct. 27, with 31 saves.

Last night, Bryzgalov was not sensational. He didn't make any acrobatic, jaw-dropping saves that would have been hard for any goaltender to duplicate. He was just plain solid - and consistent.

"I think once he stopped talking to you [media] guys, he's been a lot better," Chris Pronger said. "You guys can figure that out on your own."

Bryzgalov's start-to-finish solid outing was sandwiched around the Flyers' second straight game without points from their top line of Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell.

Instead, defenseman Braydon Coburn notched his first goal of the season on a pretty passing play, and rookie Matt Read squeaked through the first game-winner of his career on a shorthanded penalty shot attempt.

Read's goal, just 4 minutes, 14 seconds into the third period, was the first penalty-shot goal the Panthers allowed at home since Mario Lemieux scored on John Vanbiesbrouck on April 11, 1997. It gave the Flyers an insurance goal and a 3-1 lead, something they would need after Tomas Fleischmann's tally with 8 seconds remaining.

"I think he opened up his five-hole and it somehow snuck through his pad and barely went over the goal line," Read said of his first career penalty shot. "It's not quite as nerve-racking as a shootout, it was a 2-1 game and there was still 15 minutes left."

Normally, that would mean 15 minutes left for the home team to claw back into the game. Instead, Bryzgalov never wavered, letting the puck consistently and quietly hit him.

"Most of the time I saw it, my 'D' did a good job of moving them out of the way," Bryzgalov said. "I saw the puck at the most important time, when they released the shot. I had an idea of where it was going."

Both Coburn and Pronger said the Flyers are still in an adjustment phase with Bryzgalov, coming off a run where seven goaltenders stopped pucks for the team over a period of two seasons.

"I think we're starting to get a little bit of chemistry with our goalie," Coburn said. "I expected it to happen, it's just time and experience with a guy, and it develops."

"He's got to adapt to us just like we've got to adapt to him," Pronger said. "He's a goalie that plays a certain way and we play a certain way. They need to mesh. And sometimes that takes time.

"There were an awful lot of bad bounces in the first month for him. That can be disheartening. At some point during the season, those bounces will go in their net and stay out of ours."

Those bounces and trends have already started to reverse. And since taking himself to the woodshed on Oct. 27, Bryzgalov - who has never been one to be uncomfortable in his own skin - has settled into his role.

"It's helped me moving forward," Bryzgalov said. "I've never run from responsibility. When I play bad, I tell you I played bad. When I play well, I tell you I played well. It's just the life. It is what it is."

Fresh off a relaxing, 2-day bonding trip in Naples, Fla., where the Flyers did little else than golf and fish in the Gulf of Mexico, it seems like Bryzgalov may have benefitted the most from the time together.

"It's helped to build the team," Bryzgalov said. "It was good for recognition, you take time to learn something that you didn't know before when you're shoulder-to-shoulder on the beach or on a golf course. It's nice sometimes to just clear your mind and forget about the hockey."

Slap shots

The Flyers are 8-0-0 when leading after the first period . . . Sean Couturier played 5:27 on the penalty kill. Couturier, 18, leads all NHL rookies in shorthanded time-on-ice . . . Claude Giroux and Danny Briere averaged a combined 68.75 percent (22-for-32) in the faceoff circle . . . The Flyers, who finish their three-game trip tonight in Carolina, are 0-1-1 in the end of back-to-back games this season. They have collected points in 18 of their last 19 games (16-1-3) against the Hurricanes. Jaromir Jagr, whose two goals gave the Flyers a 5-1 win over Carolina on Oct. 29, has a staggering 101 points in 70 career games against the Hartford/Carolina franchise.

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