He is the $51 million man. The man Ed Snyder imported who would save the Philadelphia Flyers franchise from two decades worth of poor performances from the most important position in the toughest tournament in professional sports, goal tender in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He is the man behind the mask, a universal mind, a guy with an off-beat sense of humor and a thick Russian accent. And he was an outstanding goalie for the Flyers for the last six weeks of the season, until he suffered a chipped bone in his foot during warmup on March 26. He returned to the net April 3 against the New York Rangers and looked shaky, then looked much better in his next game against the Buffalo Sabres. Sergei Bobrovsky finished off the schedule, starting the final game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The question is whether or not those last two starts will be enough time for Byrzgalov to return to the dominant form that saw him not allow a goal for 249 consecutive minutes, a Flyers’ team record. He seemed to be on a confidence roller coaster all season, playing great for stretches and then suffering through equally awful streaks. The good news is that he seemed to end the year on a high note.
Bryzgalov seems to have found a new focus. The Flyers asked him to stop talking to the media back in January, after he announced that he would not be starting in the Winter Classic, played at Citizen’s Bank Park. The thinking was that he was getting caught up not only in talking about how bad he was playing every night, but also in how the media was portraying him as having a few screws loose. The strategy seems to have worked, Bryzgalov is 11-4-1 since Feb. 28 with a 1.61 goals against average and .940 save percentage.
He was also 2-0 this season against the Penguins, compared to Marc-Andre Fleury, who went 1-3-1 with a 3.41 GAA and .872 save percentage against the Flyers. The Flyers won the season series 4-2, just suffered their first loss in the Penguins’ home arena, the Consol Energy Center, on April 7, a meaningless game in which the Flyers sat Bryzgalov along with their best player, Claude Giroux. The Penguins have now played two full seasons in the Consol Energy Center.
Prediction: This will be a nasty, vicious series. Flyers in 7.