Hot stretch has Bryzgalov getting 'the love' in Philly

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 12:09 PM / In The Spotlight

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

Ilya Bryzgalov hasn't been around Philadelphia Flyers fans all that long, but the goaltender already has learned they're a fickle bunch.

Performance counts -- play well and the fans will pour out their appreciation. Fail to meet expectations, well, you won't have to go far to hear about that.

"From hating to the love in one step," Bryzgalov said. "And the same in the other direction."

After Thursday's 28-save shutout in a 5-0 victory against the visiting Florida Panthers, the fans definitely had stepped onto the love path.

It was Bryzgalov's second shutout in three games, and as time ticked down in the third period Thursday, fans loudly cheered every save and chanted "Bryz."

Ilya Bry


Goalie - PHI
RECORD: 26-13-6
GAA: 2.65 | SVP: 0.905

That's a long way from the fans cheering for him being pulled during the second period of a Feb. 18 start against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when he allowed three goals on 13 shots -- including a pair of shorthanded goals in a 1:43 span.

Since that game, Bryzgalov is 6-2-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .929 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. And in the two losses, the Flyers were shut out -- 2-0 in Edmonton on Feb. 23 and 1-0 in San Jose on Feb. 28.

Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract in June, has had an up-and-down first season with the Flyers. Brought in with the hope he could stabilize a position that seemingly has spent decades in flux, Bryzgalov started well, winning his first three starts, including victories against both of last season's Stanley Cup finalists.

However, inconsistent play and eccentric comments off the ice has earned him unwanted attention.

* There was his famed "lost in the woods" comment after allowing four goals on 10 shots in the wild 9-8 loss to Winnipeg on Oct. 27, which capped a five-game winless stretch that saw him allow 21 goals (0-4-1), including at least four goals in four straight.

* He became the most-talked about character of the "24/7" HBO show for his wide-ranging dissertations on the size of the universe, Russian alcohol, Siberian huskies and laws in China regarding tigers, among other topics.

*His post-practice announcement Jan. 1 that he wouldn't be starting the 2012 Winter Classic: "I have great news and even better news. OK, great news is I'm not playing, and better news is we have a chance to win the game." He added he would sit on the bench with a thermos of hot tea during the game, and later posted a photo of the thermos to his Twitter account.

* Twice he's gone at least four games without a win, and he's had two winning streaks of at least four games.
* After that Feb. 18 loss to the Penguins, as fans alternately booed him and cheered for his replacement, Sergei Bobrovsky, Bryzgalov said, "I'll try to find peace in my soul to play in this city."

Since that game, however, Bryzgalov clearly has found whatever he needed.

"He seems pretty locked in right now," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said following Thursday's game. "Hes preparing, he's going out there, he's executing, and then he gets ready for the next one. It's more mechanical now -- not his game or anything, just what he's doing. He's dialed in from day to day. He works hard in practice, he gets ready for the game, he goes out and does what he has to do and focuses on the next day when it comes."

Players in the locker room also have seen a more consistent Bryzgalov off the ice. Publicly he's dialed down some of eccentricities, deflecting comments about his play like shots from the slot.

I think all 60 minutes was a great effort by the team," Bryzgalov said Thursday. "They played the whole game diving for the pucks to blocking to protecting the passing lanes. They tried to make my job as easy as possible. Remove the players from the slot to let me see the shot. I think it was an unbelievable team effort tonight. That's why we had success tonight. This is all part of the team job, the shutout, the team deserved it."

Even when asked about the fans being so vocally in his favor, he said he didn't realize it was happening.

"I was so concentrating on the game that I didn't hear it," he said. "But if they cheer for me, it's very nice and very kind of them."

His teammates, though, certainly heard it.

"It was good to hear the fans behind him and behind our team," Claude Giroux said. "I can't even imagine how hard it was for him at one point. He had a tough stretch and was pretty much being booed on home ice. He is our best player and we need our goalie to be the best player."

"It was a good feeling," Danny Briere said. "I'm sure even more for him. You start playing well and the fans are going to support you, and thats always a good feeling."

A workhorse during his time with the Phoenix Coyotes, Bryzgalov likely will make his 11th straight start when the Flyers visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC). All the work seems to agree with him, and at least one teammate sees this hot streak as just the beginning of a strong run for Bryzgalov.

"His confidence is growing and growing," Scott Hartnell said. "I don't think we've seen the best of Bryz yet."