For much of the 2012 postseason, Ilya Bryzgalov has been the target for those who are pointing out why the Philadelphia Flyers cannot win the Stanley Cup. While entering Tuesday night's game against the New Jersey Devils with a 5-2 record, Bryzgalov had struggled mightily at times, and may have been fortunate that his teammates were able to outscore the opposition.
He made some key saves early in the first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins that may have helped turn the momentum around. In each of the first two games Bryzgalov was able to come up with stops to enable Philly comebacks and help the Flyers take both games in the Steel City.
He was able to keep Sunday's Game 1 against New Jersey close while his teammates were showing obvious rust following a week-long layoff. Philadelphia didn't manage a shot on Martin Brodeur until after the midway point of the first period, while the Devils threw 10 shots at Bryzgalov. Even though he yielded two goals on just seven shots over the second and third frames, the Flyers' net minder did what he had to do before Danny Briere netted the game-winner in overtime.
While his teammates came out of the gate quickly in Game 2 and snatched the lead in the contest's first few minutes, they were not able to sustain the effort.
Briere had a chance to make it 2-0 shortly after Read's goal, but his shot was sent over Brodeur's left shoulder and rang solidly off the crossbar and stayed out.
As the opening period wore on, New Jersey started to take the game away from the Flyers. The Devils carried play from the midway point of the first, and then thoroughly dominated the second stanza. They bottled Philly up in their own end for long stretches of time and didn't allow a Flyers' shot on goal until Claude Giroux sent a long-range wrister on Brodeur with just 1:27 remaining in the middle frame.
All the while, the visitors were sending the rubber towards the Philadelphia net. Bryzgalov was called upon to make 12 stops before that Giroux shot, but he would not budge.
"It's hard sometimes not to," said Zach Parise when asked if Bryzgalov's play was frustrating the Devils. "He was making some big saves. We were getting some big opportunities and that can get frustrating but, we kept with our game plan and that worked."
Though being outshot, 25-11 heading into the third period, Bryzgalov was the sole reason the Flyers were still able to hold onto the 1-0 lead he had been staked to early in the first.
As Philly seemed content to try to squeak out a one-goal victory, New Jersey's tenacity and resiliency in the face of the adversity of leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk's absence due to a lower-body injury finally paid off.
Rookie defender Adam Larsson -- playing in his first playoff game because of Kovalchuk's injury after being a healthy scratch for the first eight postseason contests -- drilled a shot from the right hash marks over Bryzgalov's glove hand and high into the net just over three minutes into the third, knotting the tilt at 1-1 and giving the Devils a big lift. After firing so many shots in Bryzgalov's direction with no success, they had finally broken through.
Just over eight minutes later, David Clarkson was able to knock the puck past Bryzgalov after the goaltender had successfully poke-checked the puck off of Parise's stick in front of the net and no Flyer was able to lend support. The goal would turn out to the be the eventual game-winner.
Despite the net minder's valiant efforts, the Devils had taken a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Travis Zajac and Bryce Salvador (into an empty net with Bryzgalov pulled) would add late-third period goals to seal the deal, and New Jersey effectively wrestled home ice advantage away from the Flyers.
"I just think just sticking with it," said coach Peter DeBoer when asked what was the turning point in the contest. "We really felt we were generating chances. We're spending a lot of time in their end. Bryzgalov made some big saves for them early and we just felt that we just had to stick with it. That resiliency finally paid off."
What occurred at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night was the Flyers wasted an absolutely tremendous outing by the club's goaltender. During many of the comeback victories during the year and thus far in the playoffs, Bryzgalov would come up with a performance of this kind to key Philly to a win.
The biggest difference between then and now was there was just no push back at all from the Flyers.
The Philadelphia power play -- which was a lethal 12-23 against the Penguins -- went 0-6 Tuesday night, and is now just 1-11 in two contests against New Jersey. No one would ever believe the Flyers could continue to connect at over 52% on the man advantage, but one would also not expect that same red-hot power play to fail to record a shot on goal.
It was also not expected that the Devils would be more controlling of the puck and put together a more effective forecheck than their Philadelphia counterparts.
Following the poor effort, to a man Bryzgalov's teammates praised their goaltender and expressed their disappointment at not being able to pull the game out for him in the end.
"It is disappointing," said Briere. "(Bryzgalov) is the only one who showed up. I am sure he is disappointed...just like the rest of us."
"Without Bryz, it could have been dangerous out there," added Matt Read, who scored the only Philadelphia goal on the night. "They took it to us the last 40 minutes of the game. He kept it close for us and gave us a chance to win, and if he plays like that any given night it gives us a better opportunity to win."
"He was unbelievable," Jaromir Jagr said. "If he wasn't in the net and didn't make those saves it would be a different story. We would be probably down a lot after the first. He kept us in the game, he gave us a chance to win but we had nothing today."
"He was our best player by far today," said Kimmo Timonen. "He was solid out there, he played really well and he gave us a chance to win the game but we couldn't get that for him."
"I think he was our best player by far tonight, and one of the best games I've seen him play in a long time," said rookie Eric Wellwood. "I think it shows a lot of confidence that he stopped the puck and everything. I wish we could have gotten the win for him."
Maybe the head coach said it best, and you can just imagine how things will be for Peter Laviolette's club before Thursday night's Game 3 in Newark.
"There are times when a goaltender stands on his head like that and you're able to squeak one out, but often times it doesn't last or it doesn't hold up", Laviolette pointed out.
"In the end, the results are just based on our play. Bryz, he was phenomenal tonight. But we have to do a better job in front of him."
For whatever reason with the exception of Game 6 of the Pittsburgh series, the Flyers cannot seem to get both their offensive and defensive efforts going in the same contest. If the offense scores, they also yield goals in bunches. If the defense and goaltending play solid games, Philly struggles to generate any kind of offense of their own.
But one thing is for certain -- the Flyers sure wasted one fantastic, 31-save performance by Brygazlov Tuesday night.