A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were floundering through a stretch that had many believing they would not be very long for any type of postseason run. And that was even if they would be able to qualify for the playoffs at all.
The team was totally out of synch. If the offense showed up, the defense and goaltending were suspect and just bad enough to drop the decision. If a defensive effort shut down the opposition, Flyers' shooters were firing blanks.
It was almost as if the club was doing whatever it took to find a way to lose games.
Much has changed since that time. One of the biggest differences has been provided by the acquisitions of two defenders -- Nicklas Grossmann and Pavel Kubina -- and has solidified what had been a rather leaky blue line unit. Even with the loss of Kubina to an "upper-body injury", Grossmann's influence has the Philly defensemen playing at a high level.
During the current five-game winning streak, the Flyers have been doing whatever it takes to pull games out.
Keeping with his present blistering-hot play, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov gave another terrific performance Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The netminder stopped all 29 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, then stopped all three Toronto skaters in the shootout -- which at one time earlier this season appeared to the bane of Bryz's universal existence -- in leading his club to their fifth consecutive win.
Bryzgalov now has two consecutive whitewashes, three in his last four games, and four in the last 12. Bryzgalov's regular season statistics continue to trend in the correct directions -- his is now 27-13-6, with a GAA of 2.59, and a save percentage of .907.
When comparing then and now, it was the first of this stretch that showed just how Philadelphia's fate in these types of contests has changed. On February 7 in a home game against Evgeni Nabokov and the New York Islanders, Bryzgalov made tough saves early and shutout the Isles through overtime. But Nabokov played the best game of his present season, stopping 45 shots through overtime, then thwarting both Flyers' skaters he faced in the shootout. Bryz gave up goals to Frans Nielsen and John Tavares in the shootout, as Philly dropped a bitterly disappointing 1-0 decision.
Against the Maple Leafs tonight, Bryzgalov was stellar in his play and even stopped Phil Kessel on a breakaway. He then denied all three Leafs' shooters in the shootout. The first-year Flyer now has a shutout streak of 136:13 and counting.
Claude Giroux provided him with the only goal he would need, providing a highlight-reel goal in beating Jonas Gustavsson top shelf with a sick move to give Philly a 1-0 victory.
The Flyers needed the victory to remain two points ahead of the New Jersey Devils, who scored two third period goals to pull out a win against the Islanders earlier in the evening. They are now looking like a team no one will want to face in the playoffs, and one that is playing a grind-it-out style that can be very successful in the NHL's second season.
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Instead of the other way around, like they had been doing for some time last month.
Taking a Flyer: Danny Briere's goalless streak reached an improbable 22 games against Toronto. Following an encouraging effort Thursday night against the Florida Panthers in which he recorded three shots on goal and two assists, Briere was rather invisible Saturday. Briere has 13 goals for the year, but has not scored since notching a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators on January 7.....Grossman had another effective outing, blocking four shots and registering a game-high eight hits in 24:32 of TOI.....Andreas Lilja, who had been a regular healthy scratch until recently when the injury bug decimated the club's defense corps, has been putting in some excellent minutes. He blocked a game-high seven shots against the Maple Leafs. The Flyers blocked 22, while Toronto as a team blocked just nine. That is a continuing trend, as Philly has out-blocked their opponents 79-33 in the last four contests.....Scott Hartnell had a game-high five shots on goal.....Braydon Coburn (26:17) and Matt Carle (26:07) led Philadelphia in TOI, while rookies Erik Gustafsson and Brandon Manning each put in solid performances.....Giroux was hit in a vulnerable position along the boards early in the game, and attempted to get him again later, which resulted in a scrum. After much pushing and shoving, in which Wayne Simmonds was locked up with three Toronto players at the same time -- Phaneuf, Joey Crabb, and Carl Gunnarsson -- Simmonds pummeled Crabb in a fight.....The Flyers did not get a power play opportunity the entire night. The last time they didn't receive a PP chance in a game was February 21, 2008, in a 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.....The Flyers were able, however, to kill off all three Leafs' man advantage. After an awful stretch on the West coast road trip, Philly has killed off all 14 opposition PP opportunities in the last six games.....Bryzgalov has allowed just two goals in his last 255:21 of play, dating back to the third period of the Islanders game on March 1. He has stopped 135 of 137 shots during that span.