Erratic Bryzgalov key to Flyers’ Round 2 hopes

Claude Giroux can tell in warmups when goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is

going to play a strong game.

But don’t expect the All-Star forward to spill his secrets.

”I can’t tell you that,” Giroux said, smiling.

Whatever the indicator is, that the Philadelphia Flyers goalie

will play his “A” game instead of his oh-no game, can remain

classified for at least one more round of the Eastern Conference

playoffs. Bryzgalov – after a brutal first five games in which he

allowed 20 goals – tipped off the Flyers that he was ready to

dominate in Game 6, then went out and shut down the Pittsburgh

Penguins in the 5-1 clincher on Sunday.

Bryzgalov has been a source of frustration and fulfillment in

his first season in net for the Flyers, and the Pittsburgh series

was no different. He won four games, and advanced, sure. But he

also posted a 3.89 goals-against average along the way.

It was just another chapter in a puzzling campaign. One that

featured oddball quotes and a Winter Classic benching. At times, it

was enough to make Flyers fans wonder why the organization gave him

$51 million last summer. His torrid March, though, coupled with his

30-save brilliance in Game 6 made the Russian worth every last

ruble.

For now.

”Bryz was unbelievable from start to finish,” Flyers forward

Danny Briere said of Game 6. ”That was something special.”

The Flyers are counting on more games like that, and fewer like

Game 4, when Bryzgalov was yanked after allowing five goals … in

less than two periods.

The Flyers – a team that used three goaltenders in two rounds

last season – expected Bryzgalov to be the missing link, the

goaltender who would lead them to their first Stanley Cup

championship since 1975. He responded, by going 33-16-7 with six

shutouts this season after coming over from Phoenix. He had a

sensational March with three straight shutouts and he set a Flyers

record with a shutout streak of 249 minutes, 43 seconds.

That’s the good Bryz.

The bad Bryz?

Bad might be too strong a word. But he was certainly mystifying

in net at times – even against Pittsburgh – and has mentioned

various times this season of being ”lost in the woods,” and being

scared only of ”bears in the forest.” He complained in December

about the pressure of playing in hockey-mad Philadelphia and said

he wished he made only $450,000, so no one would notice him.

His dry wit made him an early-season hit on HBO’s ”24/7” and

with the media before the Flyers suggested he tone down his

remarks. A more sanitized Bryzgalov emerged and he grew annoyed

after the Game 6 win with questions about his performance.

”No personal pride,” he said. ”It is a team effort. It is the

whole organization.”

Bryz was right on target with that assessment.

Giroux earned the ”best in the world” moniker from Flyers

coach Peter Laviolette, after posting six goals and eight assists

in the series. Erik Gustafsson was still in the minors and watched

Game 1 on TV when the series started, then scored a Game 6 goal

when pressed into service. Briere scored five goals and Jaromir

Jagr tormented his former franchise with six assists. Sean

Couturier had a hat trick in Game 2. The Flyers blocked 40 shots in

Game 6.

The Flyers’ resolve and fight was on display for every game but

one. Of course, all of those working parts were needed to knock off

a team as talented as the Penguins.

But to keep doing it? Well, the key ingredient needs to be a

focused, fantastic Bryzgalov.

”When the team sees him make the saves like that,” Jagr said,

”it’s confidence coming out, because he knows we’re going to play

the same way.”

Laviolette gave the Flyers a day off on Monday. The team will

practice the rest of the week and may not know who they’ll face in

the Eastern Conference semifinals until late Thursday. The break

gives their banged-up bodies time to heal, though they might lose

some momentum.

The Flyers publicly insisted they have no rooting interest in

the rest of the playoffs. Hard to believe they’re not pulling for

Ottawa, though, to knock off New York and eliminate a Rangers team

that went undefeated this season against the Flyers. The Rangers

went 6-0 against Philadelphia for the first time in 40 years, in

fact.

If Boston and New York both lose their first-round series, the

No. 5 Flyers would hold home ice until at least the Stanley Cup

finals.

”We’re going to live and die by Bryz,” Flyers forward Scott

Hartnell said. ”If he plays anything like he did (in Game 6)

throughout this next round, we’re going to keep moving on.”