The 2011-12 campaign has pretty much been a roller coaster ride for Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The highs and lows have been well-documented by both local and national pundits, with a heavy concentration being focused mostly upon the latter.
Bryzgalov's play has seen highs and lows on the current road trip, with wild peaks and valleys in two of the three contests. One thing has remained perfectly consistent, though, and that is the netminder has experienced a shaky start, only to come back strong to win a pair of games beyond regulation time.
Trailing 4-3 in the waning moments of the third period in Winnipeg Tuesday night, the Flyers rescued their goalie when Wayne Simmonds scored with just 9.7 seconds remaining. Bryzgalov had to come up big with a right pad stop on Evander Kane in the extra period before Jaromir Jagr provided the overtime tally to pull out a near-miraculous two points to begin the trip.
In Edmonton Thursday night, the 31-year-old goaltender provided a much more consistent performance, stopping 28 of 30 shots in a 2-0 Oilers victory. The problem that night was Flyers' skaters shooting blanks all night in the direction of netminder Devan Dubnyk, who posted a 35-save shutout.
Last night in Calgary, Bryzgalov gave up two soft goals in the first 5:17 of play, with the second -- an unscreened Matt Stajan offering from the slot -- seeming to deflate his teammates. After a bad giveaway in the defensive zone by Pavel Kubina led to a Tom Kostopoulos shorthanded marker, Philadelphia was behind the eight-ball, staring squarely at a 3-0 deficit with 7:05 left in the second period.
It is sometimes appears like gazing at the peak of Mount Everest when contemplating what it will take to overcome a three-goal deficit, and last night was no different. While Calgary has given up a number of leads throughout the season, Bryzgalov's counterpart, Miikka Kiprusoff, is not a goaltender that does not defeat himself.
Anything gained would have to be earned.
A strong move to the net by Jakub Voracek and a fluky deflection banked in off a defender by Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers to within one goal by the second intermission, and Scott Hartnell deflected a Kimmo Timonen point shot to tie the game 7:35 into the third period.
Philly caught a bad break midway through the third when Alex Tanguay was generously awarded a penalty shot for a Kubina slash as Bryzgalov made the save on a breakaway, and the team appropriately found themselves in emergency mode when Tanguay took full advantage of the gift with 9:11 remaining.
There is one thing that has been predominant about the current version of the Flyers, and that is they possess a never-say-die attitude when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. Their resiliency would once again be on full display for the entire hockey world to see, as the game was being broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada on CBC all across the Great White North.
After a second Hartnell deflection on the night knotted the game less than two minutes later, the game headed to overtime.
When Philadelphia had come from behind two times earlier in the season -- November 23, visiting the New York Islanders in a 5-4 victory, and just nine days later on a West coast jaunt in Anaheim in a 4-3 triumph over the Ducks -- the Flyers had found a way to get the job done in overtime on both occasions. And it's a good thing, because the club's shortcomings in shootouts -- a horrific 1-5 record in the game-deciding skills competition -- has also been well-publicized.
The best scoring chance came in the closing seconds of the extra five minute frame, when Claude Giroux sent a perfect pass to Andrej Meszaros at the left side of the net, but the defenseman's shot missed just wide.
If Bryzgalov and the Flyers were to pull out this game, it would have to come via the shootout route.
It was no coincidence that Bryzgalov was a morbid 0-4 when games went past overtime, as he had yielded eight goals in 10 attempts coming into the game. Kiprusoff, on the other hand, posted a 3-4 mark and had allowed just nine goals in 25 shootout opportunities.
On paper, it was a lopsided mismatch, but that's why they actually play the games.
Bryzgalov stopped four of the five shooters he faced to gain his first shootout victory in a Flyers' uniform, and Giroux and Matt Read would come up with timely strikes for the visitors.
Things looked bleak when the first two Philly shooters, James van Riemsdyk and Danny Briere, didn't even get a shot off for Kiprusoff to have to make a save. Bryzgalov made a spectacular diving stop on Tanguay, a bit of revenge for the penalty shot tally he had registered in the third period.
When Mike Cammalleri beat the Flyers' netminder to start the third round, all that stood between another Philly loss was Giroux's attempt on Kiprusoff. The team's leading scorer came through in the clutch, beating the Flames' netminder cleanly to keep Philadelphia alive.
After stopping both Jarome Iginla and Curtis Glencross in rounds four and five, Bryzgalov got the support he needed in Read's goal.
The night followed a similar path for the Flyers' goalie. The shaky beginning, regaining form to put in a solid performance, then eventually pulling out a win in the end.
It's a pattern the club hopes ends up being the ultimate description to Bryzgalov's roller coaster first season in the city -- a shaky start, regaining form along the way, then winning when it ultimately matters.
That is the end result he was brought here to achieve.
Coach Rewarded For Confidence in Bryz
When his club fell behind by three goals, it would have been easy for Peter Laviolette to pull his netminder and insert Sergei Bobrovsky. But the bench boss decided to stick with his number one, and Bryzgalov rewarded his confidence with a big win. 'Bryz' has now quietly won three of his last four decisions to improve to 22-12-6 for the year.
And by keeping with the netminder, the coach made it quite clear who his starter is, and will continue to be moving forward.
Big Problems Continue for Flyers' Special Teams
While fingers point from every direction at Bryzgalov's every error, there are many other issues with which need addressing. The club's special teams has been an atrocity over the last month, and that trend continued last night. By giving up a power play goal on their first shorthanded situation, opponents scored on five of the first six opportunities and have now gone 5-8 with the man advantage during the Flyers' current road trip.
The power play has not had great success, having been successful just twice in 13 chances on the trip. Last night they made good on just 1-7 opportunities, but also allowed Calgary's first shorthanded marker of the season.
Taking a Flyer: The win kept the Flyers in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in an afternoon tilt, so if the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins and Philly lost in Calgary, the Flyers would have been in the seventh slot at night's end, further accentuating the importance of the big win.....Two Flyers' defensemen were credited with goals before having them changed later in the night. Timonen and Nicklas Grossman each had goals turned into assists when reviews showed deflections in front by Hartnell. The 29-year-old winger now has 30 goals, the second time he has reached that plateau (2008-09 was his other). Hartnell now has five goals in his last eight games.....Grossman ended up with two assists, his first two-point game in the defensive-defenseman's NHL career.....The last time a Flyers' team has come from behind to win three games in which they trailed 3-0 was during the 1991-92 campaign -- one in which the club failed to make the playoffs.....Briere's goal-scoring drought has reached epic proportions as it now stands at 16 contests. His last goal came in overtime of a January 7 3-2 victory, completing the hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. Briere has posted just six assists over that time period.....Even though Kubina's giveaway led to a shorthanded goal, he played pretty well and posted a game-high five blocked shots.....Philly outshot the Flames by 43-19 count after regulation, and 45-21 through the overtime frame.....Read's goal-scoring slump hit 11 games, but he did manage an assist before notching the game-winner in the shootout.