Ilya Bryzgalov made 28 saves to record his second shutout in three games and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Florida Panthers 5-0 on Thursday night for their fourth straight win.
Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Scott Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Wellwood scored for the Flyers.
Bryzgalov has finally played like the goalie the Flyers expected when they gave him a $51 million, nine-year contract. After struggling much of the season, he’s 7-2 with a 2.10 goals-against average while making 10 straight starts.
Fans who booed him just last month at the Wells Fargo Center chanted ”Bryz! Bryz! Bryz!” in the third period.
”It’s very nice and very kind from them,” Bryzgalov said. ”From hating to love in one step and the same in the other direction.”
In a 5-4 win at Winnipeg on Feb. 21, Jets fans derisively chanted Bryzgalov’s name. He joked afterward that they were cheering for him, though some radio talk show-hosts in Philadelphia criticized Bryzgalov for misunderstanding the crowd’s intention.
”I thought we were in Winnipeg,” Hartnell said with a smile. ”We always were behind Bryz in our dressing room. He’s obviously winning some fans now. His confidence is growing and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Bryz yet.”
The victory moved the Flyers within two points of fourth-place Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference.
The Southeast Division-leading Panthers, seeking their first playoff berth since 2000, entered with a two-point lead over Winnipeg, which was eighth in the conference.
”This is a tough one to take,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. ”Composure is the biggest issue for us right now. We have veterans here that need to start playing 60 minutes.”
The Flyers, already missing Chris Pronger for the season, played without defensemen Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Pavel Kubina.
Bryzgalov was all the defense Philadelphia needed. He earned his fourth shutout of the season, and the 27th of his career.
”He’s been unbelievable,” Jagr said. ”If he plays like this, it’s great for us.”
Schenn gave the Flyers a rare 1-0 lead midway through the first period when he scored on the power play. Claude Giroux slid the puck across the ice from the left face-off circle to Schenn, who was in the right circle. The puck skipped by Hartnell, who whiffed on a shot attempt. Schenn then one-timed it past Jose Theodore as the Flyers scored first for just the second time in 12 games.
Read put the Flyers up 2-0 early in the second period with his rookie-leading 19th goal of the season. Danny Briere, looking for his first goal in two months, got two solid shots at Theodore, and Read poked in the rebound off the second one. Briere hasn’t scored a goal in 21 games since Jan. 7.
Briere nearly snapped his drought later in the period when he backhanded a shot toward an open net, but defenseman Jason Garrison slid across the crease and made the save.
”I think I’m retiring,” Briere joked.
Hartnell scored a breakaway goal to make it 3-0 later in the second. Hartnell stole a pass in Philadelphia’s zone, outskated two trailing Panthers and snapped a wrist shot past Theodore. Hartnell registered his 60th point, tying his career best. He improved his career high in goals to 32.
Jagr’s power-play goal made it 4-0 in the third. He fired a wicked slap shot through a screen for his 18th goal. The 40-year-old forward was doubtful after leaving the previous game with a hip injury, but was able to play for injury-depleted Philadelphia.
Flyers forward Jakub Voracek sat out after getting flattened by a hard check by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall two nights earlier.
”We made too many mistakes. You do that, and you’re going to lose on any night against anyone,” Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. ”We have to keep battling. We have to keep finding some chances any way we can. Any good team in this league is going to take advantage against us, if we keep playing like this.”
Notes: All three coaches on Florida’s bench have Flyers ties. Dineen and assistant Gord Murphy played for Philadelphia. Assistant Craig Ramsay was the Flyers’ head coach in 2000-01. … Panthers F Kris Versteeg missed his fifth straight game. Versteeg played 27 games for the Flyers last year. … Florida fell behind 2-0 for the six of their last seven games. … The Flyers have won five straight and six of their last seven games against the Panthers.