NHL

Flyers hope to lean on Bryzgalov

Hockey Primetime Bill Weisbrod
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If further evidence was needed that NHL players are not like anyone else you might see on the street, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov supplied it this week.

Bryzgalov suffered a chip fracture in his right foot Monday night after getting hit with a shot by teammate Jakub Voracek in warmups. Yet Bryzgalov went the entire way in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, while dealing with an injury that would have most people writhing in agony.

Bryzgalov sat out the Flyers' game Thursday against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, but he is not expected to miss many more — if any.

“It’s just going to be a little bit of pain management for Ilya,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “We’ll see how the next couple days go, but nobody’s really concerned about this.”

If Holmgren’s prognosis is correct, it will be a major relief for the Flyers, who have been reminded over the past month why they gave Bryzgalov a nine-year contract worth $51 million last summer. And if Philadelphia, which entered Saturday as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, hopes to make any kind of playoff run, it will need the Bryzgalov of March to lead the way.

Bryzgalov has a 10-2-1 record through 13 games in March, with a stellar .947 save percentage and 1.43 goals-against average. He was arguably the NHL’s top goaltender during that span and helped the Flyers cement their status as a playoff team, despite an inconsistent season.

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The team will now attempt to finish with the conference’s fourth seed, which is currently held by the PIttsburgh Penguins.

But once the playoffs begin, Philadelphia will endure some major challenges. A first-round matchup with the Penguins is as big a challenge as any team in the tournament will
face.

As of Friday, the Penguins were listed as favorites to win the 2012 Stanley Cup on online gambling site Bovada.lv at 9-2 odds. And that is after a surprising sweep of the Penguins in a home-and-home series Tuesday and Thursday by the lowly Islanders damaged some of the aura of invincibility Pittsburgh took on after the return of captain Sidney Crosby earlier in March.

A slide in their final regular-season games could put the Flyers in the sixth seed, in which case they would probably face the current Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.

While Florida (or possibly Washington) would be a less daunting opponent than the Penguins, the Flyers will need Bryzgalov to be playing at his ides of March finest in order to advance against any opponent.

Excruciating foot injury, or not.

Tagged: Flyers, Penguins, Ilya Bryzgalov

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