Sam Donnellon: Can Flyers say ... Michael Leighton?

Ilya Bryzgalov heads to the bench early in the second period after allowing five goals on 18 shots.
Ilya Bryzgalov heads to the bench early in the second period after allowing five goals on 18 shots. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: April 19, 2012

CALLING . . . Michael Leighton.

Maybe you missed it amid all the suspensions and buffoonery of the last few days, but the near-hero of the Flyers' 2010 Stanley Cup run cleared waivers this week and is available, if needed.

And, well . . . What the hell are we waiting for?

His team playing at home and on the verge of a sweep, Ilya Bryzgalov was lifted just 23 minutes and 7 seconds into Wednesday night's eye-shielding, 10-3 loss to the Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center. It came after Kris Letang's shot from the left circle on one of Pittsburgh's countless power plays found the short side of his net for the Penguins' fifth goal of the night. Bryz reacted to that shot as if on cold medicine, ending a night of lousy goaltending that began when he once again swallowed up a shot in his midsection, stood up and dropped the puck at his feet as if baiting a bear.

Ah, but in reality it was countryman Evgeni Malkin, who tapped it in to negate a rare early lead for the Flyers.

"We're not playing loose," Bryzgalov insisted later. "They force us to make the mistakes."

Well, not always. Bryz faced 18 shots and allowed five goals. His replacement, Sergei Bobrovsky, faced 18 shots and allowed five goals. To put it in context, if the Phillies could manage this percentage with runners in scoring position, they'd be atop their division right now.

"Pretty embarrassing," said Claude Giroux, who apologized to Flyers fans afterward.

I'm at the point where I feel sorry for this organization. It's not like the Flyers haven't tried. John Vanbiesbrouck, Ray Emery - you get the feeling that if they had been able to pluck local boy Mike Richter from the Rangers when he was a free agent way back when, he would have hurt something.

About 16 months ago, they thought they had their goalie of the future in young Sergei Bobrovsky. Nine months ago they thought they had their goalie of the future when they signed Bryzgalov to that 9-year, $51 million contract.

It now seems like that will hog-tie them the way Andre Iguodala's contract has hampered the Sixers. You wonder even if they will have to part with one or several of their young stars in the future to stay under the cap. But it's hard to kill Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren for Bryz, it really is. He was on top of everyone's free-agent list, and I'm fairly certain that both Ed Snider and Peter Luukko mandated that Homer this time attempt to upgrade the position with the best he could get.

But Bryz has been an uneasy fit right from the start, and he's far too old to blame his yips on and off the ice on immaturity. Just a guess, but after watching his countryman for an entire season, I'll bet Bob isn't in any hurry to learn our language.

I wish he was in a hurry to take the job from him, though, which also does not appear to be the case. Bob allowed five more goals after taking over in the second period, and the press box jokes were on.

Leighton was downstairs dressing . . . Neil Little was downstairs dressing . . .

Bernie Parent - who didn't look half-bad a couple of months ago - was ready to turn things around.

Of course, the Penguins could have scored 18 goals - a distinct possibility given the goaltending and how tight the game was called - and it wouldn't change the reality that they must still beat the Flyers three more times in a row to advance. And Bryzgalov is certainly capable of playing more like the guy who was the NHL's player of the month for March than the mess he was last night.

But it's hard to see how either team can advance much further with their goaltending. Yes, these are two of the league's most prolific offenses, and there have been many pretty goals. But rather than frustrate, the play of both Marc-Andre Fleury and Bryzgalov has been the equivalent of adrenaline shots.

Before Wednesday night, the Flyers had outscored Pittsburgh, 15-4, from the second period on. Some of that had to do with better play, but not by that percentage. The Flyers had 59 shots from the second period on. The Penguins had 55. Indeed, Bryzgalov's spotty play had been overshadowed by the horrific play of Fleury.

Bryz's one advantage had been that he played better as games progressed in this series, while Fleury played worse. That flipped upside down Wednesday night. Your hope is that the series didn't too.

"I'm not worried about Bryz,'' Giroux said. "He's an elite goaltender. He'll be our best player in Game 5."

"This series will be remembered for dee-cades," said Bryz.

Only if three more losses follow. Then it will be like 1964. And yes, then we will never forget him.


Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

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