WASHINGTON Considering the wild ride this Flyers season has already been, it figures the team would come away with a shutout win from one of the leagues tougher buildings to play in while missing two of its top defensemen.
Without Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaros in the lineup (both are out indefinitely, see story), Ilya Bryzgalov and the Flyers silenced the Washington Capitals, 1-0, putting together their first back-to-back wins in almost two months.
Slowly, over the past few weeks, its seemed Bryzgalov has been recapturing his game. At no time has that been more evident than it was Sunday night, when Bryzgalov stopped 34 shots -- just two off his season high of 36.
He looked big, Danny Briere said. He looked comfortable. He came out and they had nothing to shoot at. I remember in talking to guys around the league, especially the last few years in Phoenix, he looked big. There was no net to shoot at. And that's the way he looked tonight. He's been playing well lately.
Bryzgalov didnt want to discuss his performance or whether hes been feeling more comfortable and confident. As hes taken to doing lately, he repeated his mantra to reporters after the game: Dont worry about me. Worry about the game.
I think we played well, he said. Stop worrying about me guys. Seriously. I think it was an outstanding team effort. As you can see, guys sacrificed themselves blocking shots, battling in front of the net and around the boards. They did everything the coach asked and whatever we need for the win.
With the victory, Bryzgalovs record over the past nine games improved to 5-2-1 (with one no-decision). His goals-against average is down to 2.16 over that stretch. It was Bryzgalovs third shutout of the season, but only his second shutout win. (After carrying a 0-0 tie through overtime, the Flyers fell to the New York Islanders in a shootout on Feb. 7.)
It seemed tonight he was probably most in control, head coach Peter Laviolette said of his netminder. But my answer prior to this had been: Yeah, it seems like hes really starting to feel comfortable. Tonight was the most comfortable.
After weeks of flat starts, the entire Flyers team did a lot right through the first period. Certainly it wasnt a perfect opening 20 minutes, but the Flyers generated a number of strong offensive chances and managed to keep the space in front of Bryzgalov mostly clear. Their defensive play -- by both the defensemen and forwards -- was stronger from the get-go than it has been in some time.
They escaped the first period with a 0-0 tie. But as Scott Hartnell said after the morning skate, sometimes it isnt about escaping the first period with a big lead. For the Flyers, especially en route to breaking some bad habits, carrying a tie into the first intermission is OK, too.
It's good to start the month the way we have, Briere said. Obviously February wasn't a good month for us. More than that, to win a game on the road against a good offensive team ... to blank them on top of it is good for the mindset of the team. Bryz is playing well, our defense is playing well. It's no secret that in the playoffs this is the type of hockey that's going to be needed to be played if we want to win.
Getting back to Hartnell, he was a big part of a rather chippy opening period. At 5:33 of the opening stanza, he dropped the gloves with Troy Brouwer, after the Caps winger drilled defensive call-up Erik Gustafsson into the boards by the Flyers bench.
The two exchanged a few punches before Hartnell lost his balance and toppled to the ice with Brouwer on top of him. Call it a draw, though it certainly fed more fire into an already intense hockey game.
The Flyers seemed to back off a bit early in the second period. The Caps kept Bryzgalov busy, sending 10 shots in on him through the period. But while the skaters in front of him struggled greatly to get organized and generate any offense, Bryzgalov kept the score knotted at 0-0, making a particularly impressive and well-timed pad save on former Flyer Mike Knuble.
It took yet another tongue-lashing from Laviolette, but the Flyers finally bested Caps goalie Michael Neuvirth at 7:51 of the second period. Just 46 seconds after a visibly displeased Laviolette called his players in, the Flyers fourth line began to buzz in front of Neuvirth. Finally, Eric Wellwood connected on a deflection on a point slap-pass from Pavel Kubina to put the Flyers ahead 1-0.
We came out just a little bit flat in the second period, Laviolette said. It seemed like they owned a lot of the shots, a lot of the chances. We were just watching a bit too much. It was more to get them back on track then anything else. I thought they responded really well after that. Not just the goal, but the rest of the period.
"Huge goal, Briere said. And not just the goal. Throughout the game they had some huge shifts. I remember in the first period the big hit by Zac. Overall, that line gave us a lot of energy and they got rewarded for it.
The fourth lines contribution was all the Flyers needed to hand the Capitals their second consecutive shutout loss on home ice. Bryzgalov certainly wouldnt say it, but the win has to have been a boost to his confidence.