Sam Donnellon: Bryzgalov cool when it counts

Posted: April 22, 2012

CLAUDE GIROUX said it was obvious in the warmup, that he checks for something before each game Ilya Bryzgalov plays, "a secret" indicator that doesn't fail. Kimmo Timonen spoke about his goalie's pregame calm. Danny Briere said he could see it in the dressing room, "There was something special in his eyes today."

Bryzgalov said there was indeed something in his eyes.

Sand.

"It was 12 o'clock in the morning game," he said. "I woke up too early."

It was the only joke he told in a rambling, mostly disinterested 7-minute session at the postgame podium. Bryzgalov has gone from the most unpredictable quote in the Flyers dressing room to the most predictable one, from the guy who always seemed to speak with one foot already in his mouth to a guy who now speaks as if he has one foot already out the door.

Boring. Steady.

And maybe, just maybe, Cup-worthy after all.

Because the Flyers not only beat the team oddsmakers had favored to win the Stanley Cup with Sunday's 5-1 elimination victory over Pittsburgh. They found the formula by which they can win it themselves.

They blocked 40 shots in front of Bryz, who stopped 30 of 31 shots. All that kept him from a perfect game shutout was a full-ice power-play scoring rush by Evgeni Malkin in the second period after Sean Couturier lost his footing on a shorthanded try, creating a two-man advantage the other way.

Otherwise, Bryzgalov was that guy who nearly helped Phoenix upset Detroit two springs ago, the guy who recorded three shutouts and a 1.46 goals against average in an 11-game run with Anaheim back in 2005-2006. Rebounds popped yards from his crease, not inches. Dangerous pucks were smothered, not recycled.

"I've seen so many goalies when they see the puck great their eyes seem to follow every rebound," said Timonen. "Even when it goes to the corner they still follow it. That's when I knew he was focused and going to give us a big game."

Because of the huge shadow Giroux cast on this game a few early stats likely will be obscured. Like the fact that after his quick goal, after he urged his team, "Let's go!," the Penguins took seven of the game's next eight shots, threw Sidney Crosby and Malkin out together for a shift and on the power play, brought the heat down on the home team.

Nine minutes and 40 seconds into the game, the Pens were outshooting the Flyers 6-1. Twelve minutes in, the home team had just one more shot other than Giroux's goal. With the score still 1-0, Bryzgalov made a big pad save on Matt Niskanen's wide-open blast, found another puck from the point through traffic and - this might have been most important - deadened and covered pucks when it was clear his team needed a reset.

Because of the absurd shot-blocking total amassed by the Flyers in Game 6, this also will be obscured. The Flyers had just six of their 40 blocked shots in the first period. "When your goalie plays well, you don't necessarily need to block shots every time," Timonen said, but it seems to work the other way, too.

The Flyers sacrificed because their goaltender made them believe it would matter. Ahead 2-0 after one period, they blocked 16 shots in the second period, and 18 in the final one. Rather than invite the Pens to rejoin the game as they have at times, the Flyers played as smothering a third period as they have played all season - certainly against a team as talented as the one they faced in this series.

Goalies are measured two ways. By their ability, and by their resilience. "You know I think when you have a game like we did in Game 4 you reel it back in a little bit and that checks you right there," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I said after Game 5 that I really like how we played as a team."

Bryz was part of that effort. One game after being yanked, facing a deafening, hostile crowd, he allowed three goals and gave his team a chance to win it with that furious third period. Almost to a man Sunday, the Flyers said they used the energy from that period to fuel a full effort. You wonder if there was a disheartening goal allowed at the end of Game 5, if that energy would have been there for Game 6.

After Game 5, there was a lot of national talk about Pens goalie Marc Andre-Fleury finding his game. If so, it is reasonable to believe - hope? - that Bryz has found his. When his team needed it the most, in a series of record goals scored and wild momentum swings, he was steady, solid and at least when it finally ended, even a little sleepy.

"There's moments for everybody," Briere said. "Where you're just not there. And it was like that for Bryz today."

"Whatever he did this morning seemed to work," Timonen said. "So hopefully he can do that for many games to come."

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

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