Inside the Flyers: Bryzgalov speaks, with a time limit

Posted: April 10, 2012

Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has his lips mostly sealed.

For the Flyers, that's a great sign heading into the Pennsylvania Cold War series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. You see, ever since Bryzgalov stopped talking about himself and focusing on his game and his teammates, he has flourished.

On Monday, Bryzgalov, who put a three-minute time limit on the group interview, said very little, though we did learn he doesn't fear the favored Penguins.

"I'm not afraid of anything [except] the bear in the forest," he said. (He may have more reason than most to be fearful, because about eight years ago, he saw photos of an acquaintance who was mauled and killed by a bear during a hunting trip.)

Bryzgalov didn't want to talk about his uneven performance in last year's four-game playoff sweep by Detroit against his team then, the Phoenix Coyotes. "I already answered that question in the beginning of the year, boys. It's starting to get boring for me."

Primarily due to a chip fracture in his right foot, Bryzgalov played in just two of the final six regular-season games. Did his last game, a 2-1 win over Buffalo on Thursday, get him sharp enough for the playoffs?

"It was a couple days ago. I don't remember," Bryzgalov said. "I have a short memory."

And so it went.

Bryzgalov was even-keeled until someone asked him if the season would be a failure if the Flyers were eliminated in the first round.

"I can't comment because we're not even playing [yet]," he said. "Why do you start asking questions like this? We're not even starting to play, and you're always preparing the crowd and people for something. Why don't you start . . . thinking positive, guys?"

There are plenty of positives surrounding Bryzgalov. He has outplayed the accomplished Marc-Andre Fleury in the Flyers' season series against the Penguins.

More important, his performances have been eye-opening in the season's second half. Consider:

Bryzgalov before the all-star break: 18-10-4 record, 2.99 goals-against average, .895 save percentage.

Bryzgalov after the break: 15-6-3, 1.84 GAA, .929 save percentage.

Bryzgalov was brought here because goaltending has let down the Flyers in the postseason for what seems like several decades.

In recent history, Michael Leighton's collapse in the 2010 Finals cost the Flyers the Stanley Cup. Last season, Peter Laviolette's carousel worked like this: He tied a dubious NHL playoff record by making seven in-game goalie switches in 11 games.

Bryzgalov would stop the carousel.

Does Bryzgalov see this as a chance to show that the Flyers made a shrewd investment?

"We do not play the individual game," he said. "We play the team game."

Scott Hartnell is a major part of that team game. He led the Flyers with 37 goals, 188 hits and number of times getting under opponents' skin.

Hartnell said the media portrayed Bryzgalov in "a different way, an awkward way. The HBO series [ 24/7] didn't help that much. I think he struggled a little bit throughout the season with his confidence or whatever it might be.

"But  he's been our best player the last couple months, and that's what you need out of your starting goalie. You pay him a lot of money, give him a big contract, and this is where he has to be at his best, and he's been playing great for us."

A chuckling Hartnell said Bryzgalov has had "some great sound bites throughout his career," and added he has noticed he is now more reserved in his interviews.

"He's a funny guy, he's a goofy guy. We love to have him in a Flyers uniform, and we're going to go as far as he takes us," Hartnell said. "And we have to play well in front of him, obviously. We have to shut down two of the best players in the league over there and make it to the second round."

Bryzgalov's dominance started when the Flyers acquired defenseman Nick Grossmann and began playing better team defense, reducing the number of quality chances.

That will be needed if they are to get past the sizzling Penguins. That and Bryzgalov continuing a roll that started in late February.

"The teams that win the Stanley Cup are the ones that have the best goaltender," said winger Wayne Simmonds, who had a breakout season with 28 goals. "Look at Boston last year. [Tim] Thomas was unbelievable. He won the Conn Smythe and got all the awards. . . . If Bryz plays the way he did in March, I think we'll be good here."

And if they win the Cup, Bryzgalov promised, he will finally come out of his shell.


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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